The No. 5 Florida Gators (35-14) dropped yet another midweek matchup on Tuesday, this time to No. 23 USF (38-10), as a lack of pitching depth reared its ugly head in the 15-10 loss. It was a game that head coach Kevin O’Sullivan referred to as “just one of those nights”.
Freshman RHP Garrett Milchin got the start on the mound and in the batting order against the Bulls, the first time a Florida player has done so since AJ Puk in 2014. USF set the tone early with a two-run homer off the bat of Joe Genord in the top of the first inning.
Milchin managed to make it out of the second inning unscathed despite giving up a double in the inning, but that would end his night and eventually leave him to take the loss.
Jonathan India made it a one-run game with a solo home run in the second inning and that is as close as the game would come for the rest of the night.
After gaining a little momentum, the third inning let all the wind out of the Gators’ sails. Freshman RHP Nate Brown came in and walked the first two batters he faced, then sandwiched an RBI single from Genord in between another walk and his night was finished.
Senior RHP Frank Rubio came in to try to get things under control, but it was all-downhill from there. With runners on second and third, he managed to get a groundout to third base, but another run crossed the plate making it 4-1.
Rubio wasn’t fooling the Bulls as the next batter, Coco Montes, hit a double to center field for two RBI’s. Another two-run single a couple of at-bats later would be enough for USF to put a six spot on the board for the third inning and take an 8-1 lead to the dugout.
JJ Schwarz hit the second Florida long ball of the night with a solo blast as the leadoff batter in the fourth inning, making it 8-2.
Despite his shaky start, Rubio ran back out for the fourth and fifth innings, but came out after surrendering a leadoff double in the fifth. Then it was LHP Nick Horvath’s turn. He gave up one unearned run in his first inning on the mound and the Gators got the run back in the bottom of the inning, so the game went to the sixth with the Bulls leading 9-3.
Genord led off the sixth inning with his second home run of the night and back-to-back doubles from David Villar and Tyler Dietrich made it an 11-3 game and ended Horvath’s night. RHP Tyler Dyson looked on top of his game as he got three quick outs to get out of the jam.
As with many young pitchers, Dyson seemed to lose his focus in his second inning on the mound as he went out for the seventh. Duke Stunkel led off the inning with a single for the Bulls and Luke Borders got ahold of one for a two-run homer, the third USF home run of the night. Dyson proceeded to walk the next two batters he faced and the Gators had to send out yet another arm.
RHP Kirby McMullen took over to finish the seventh and made it out of the eighth without allowing a run, but it wasn’t pretty, as he gave up three free passes.
After seven complete innings, the Bulls took out starting pitcher D.J. Roberts and entered Mark Savarese. With a new look on the mound, Florida finally found some offensive momentum for a two-out rally in the eighth.
Jonathan India doubled down the left field line and Andrew Baker followed it up with a single of his own. Austin Bodrato entered the game as the DH and walked to load the bases. Blake Reese singled up the middle on the first pitch of his at bat to score India and Baker and make it 13-5, still a long shot going to the ninth inning.
After batting in the eighth, Bodrato made his pitching debut for the Gators in the ninth inning. He walked four batters and threw two wild pitches, giving up two runs and making it a 10-run game going into the bottom of the ninth.
That’s when things got interesting, or as interesting as things can get in a game as tedious to watch as this one was.
The Bulls sent another new pitcher, Collin Sullivan to the mound to close it out. Deacon Liput drew a leadoff walk and Austin Langworthy singled to give Florida runners on first and second with no outs.
Christian Hicks smacked a one-out single through the right side to load the bases and India hit a sacrifice fly to score Florida’s sixth run, but now there were two outs.The pitch hit Baker and the bases were full again. Sullivan walked Bodrato on four pitches to score Langworthy and suddenly the Gators were only two grand slams away from coming out with a win.
USF pulled the plug on Sullivan and put Ryan Valdes on the mound to get the final out, but he walked Reese and another Florida run walked in. Ryan Larson hit a single just past the second baseman to score Reese and Bodrato, making it 15-10 USF.
The Gators where they started the inning with Liput back up to the plate, but the ninth inning rally finally came to an end as he grounded out to the first baseman.
While the eighth and ninth inning rallies were a bit of positive to take away from the game, USF deserved to win. Florida was not in the game mentally from the start and it showed.
The Gators were forced to run seven different arms out to the mound and none were sharp. Florida walked 17 batters in the game, the most in any game since Kevin O’Sullivan took over. The most before that was 10 walks in a game. Every pitcher walked at least one batter.
“I think the thing that’s going on with some of our freshmen is that they’re coming in and having one good inning and then when you run them back out there for the second inning, it’s not as clean,” O’Sullivan said. “The hard thing for me to try to help them get the point across is that they don’t have to do it on their own. We play such good defense that there’s really no need to be walking that many guys. But for these young pitchers, if you keep harping on walks, it’s like free-throw shooting in basketball. It tends to be contagious.”
This is not the first midweek game that poor pitching has costed the Gators. Florida was just 8-5 against midweek opponents this season and gave up six runs or more in seven of those games. With a young pitching staff, these are the losses the Gators have learned to accept until pitchers develop.
The loss to USF snapped a nine-game winning streak for Florida. The Gators will go into this weekend’s series at Alabama looking to carry over the positives on offense and forget the pitching nightmare.
“You know, the beginning of the year was tough,” said Reese. “Our pitching was really carrying us and lately we’ve been able to get the bats going along with some quality pitching on the weekend. I think those last couple innings swinging the bat was big. It gives you at least a little bit of momentum offensively going into this weekend.”
While the Gators will try to forget this game, they should not forget the Bulls. USF is setting itself up to possibly be an NCAA Regional host in the coming weeks, but should it not host, there is a very high chance the Bulls could end up in Gainesville to face Florida again in post-season.