It wasn’t pretty, but it was a night for the record books.
The No. 1 Florida Gators (22-1, 3-0 SEC) won its 15th game in a row and 24th consecutive game at McKethan Stadium, tying a school record, with a 2-1 victory over No. 19 Florida Atlantic (15-4).
Freshman Jackson Kowar took the mound after a poor outing against Missouri on Saturday where he walked both batters he faced and gave up two runs. Kowar didn’t make it far before surrendering a run. FAU second baseman Stephen Kerr deposited a 94 MPH fastball over the left field wall on just the second pitch of the game. Kowar gave up a single before inducing a 4-6-3 double play and a strikeout to get out of the first. Florida went quietly in its half of the inning and Kowar shut FAU down in the second.
Deacon Liput put Florida on the board with a one-out double, the first hit of he game for the Orange and Blue, giving Nelson Maldonado an opportunity to even the score. When Maldonado took a high and outside fastball the other way in the second inning, it initially appeared to be good for a double. Florida Atlantic right fielder Brett Lashley made the play closer than expected but the ball bounced just past his outstretched glove, allowing Deacon Liput to score and Maldonado to race to third.
Lashley’s throw from just under the right field foul pole was cutoff by Kerr, but Kerr’s throw bounced away from the third baseman and an exhausted Maldonado took off for home.
“I saw the ball behind me so I took off to home,” Maldonado said. “I was tired and I was running kind of slow to home, but I made it.”
Maldonado has flashed some speed in the outfield and on the basepaths, but after sprinting and sliding into third, he looked like he was carrying a refrigerator on his back for the last 90 feet.
“Part of me was like, ‘man I’m tired’,” Maldonado joked when asked if he thought about just staying at third. “I wanted to score though.”
Florida should be glad that Maldonado decided against a siesta at third base because his run proved to be the deciding run of the game.
Florida only managed to get runners in scoring position two more times in the game. Dalton Guthrie singled in the third and stole second but was stranded. Guthrie singled again in the sixth and made it all the way to third after a pitch hit Pete Alonso and Deacon Liput walked but all three would be stranded.
FAU didn’t fare much better at the plate. The Owls put just four runners in scoring position, but stranded them all in the third, fifth sixth and eighth innings, thanks to some clutch pitching by a set of four relievers out of Florida’s bullpen.
The quintet of Frank Rubio, Scott Moss, Dane Dunning, Kirby Snead and Brady Singer combined to throw 4.2 scoreless innings, walking two and striking out five to finish out the game.
“It was one of those weird night, I’m gonna be honest with you,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We had the pit count about 60-65 with Jackson and all those five guys in the pen, I wanted to get them in the game at some point. As you know when you’re playing in a 2-1 game it’s hard. You gotta try to win the ball game.”
Florida will travel to Kentucky, this Friday for a three game series. The Wildcats are 15-5 on the season, 2-1 in conference play after beating Georgia in Athens last weekend and are 10-1 at home in 2016.