With a 3-1 count in a tie game, Nelson Maldonado lofted a ball deep to center field, far enough to score Dalton Guthrie and give the Florida Gators a 2-1 in the top of the ninth. Florida’s win on Friday night was their eighth-straight SEC win, holding serve with Mississippi State, who beat Georgia 9-3, at the top of the SEC standings.
The Gators and Tide engaged in a pitching duel most of the night with Alex Faedo and Jake Walters dispatching hitters and throwing up zeros. Faedo retired the first batters he faced and Walters surrendered just one hit through six innings.
Alabama (19-30/5-20 SEC) struck first in the fourth inning. Kyle Kaufman singled up the middle with one out. Faedo fell behind to Cobie Vance 2-0 and the second baseman took advantage, doubling down the left field line to plate Kaufman.
Walters, meanwhile, was dealing sitting down seven Gators in a row into the seventh inning. JJ Schwarz stepped into the box with one out and patiently worked himself into a hitter’s count, 3-1. Schwarz deposited the next pitch deep to left field well over the wall for his eighth home run of the season. Schwarz started the season slow but is hitting his stride at the right time. The junior is 15-35 (.429) with four home runs and 15 RBI in the Gators’ last 11 games.
Walters walked Maldonado before getting Christian Hicks and Jonathan India to pop up to shortstop and second and his night was done. Walters matched a season-high with eight strikeouts.
Faedo returned to the mound in the seventh and gave up a leadoff single to Alex Webb. Connor Short moved Webb into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and then to third when Sam Finnerty grounded out to Guthrie at short. Alabama went to the bench, bringing in Tanner Devinny to pinch hit. Faedo walked him on four straight, triggering a meeting at the mound. The junior pitcher bore down, striking out Chandler Avant to get out of the jam and strand Webb at third.
That would be the last pitch of the night for Faedo. He didn’t factor into the decision but it was his fifth quality start in a row, striking out eight to just three hits. Florida turned to closer Michael Byrne, who picked the win, in the eighth.
The 1-1 score held into the ninth. Guthrie led the final frame off with a single to center and advanced to second when Garrett Suchey’s pick-off attempt sailed past Hunter Alexander. Austin Langworthy couldn’t get a sacrifice bunt down and struck out swinging. Alabama chose to walk Schwarz, setting up a double play and a force at third, to bring Maldonado to the plate. Guthrie was able to move from second to third on a ball in the dirt. Maldonado worked himself into a hitter’s count and came through in the clutch.
The Gators have played 23 one-run games this season (they had just 17 last season) and have a 16-7 record in those games.
Florida will look to take the series on Saturday with a first pitch scheduled for 7 pm.