Heading into Friday’s series opener against Miami, the Gators had been on an unprecedented run against the Hurricanes, having recorded 11 straight victories over their in-state rival.
In order for the Gators to extend that streak, they would need to break another, as Florida (3-7) entered the game on a five-game skid.
For most of the still-young season, the Gators have suffered from an inability to get hits during crucial situations. Unfortunately for Florida, the trend continued on Friday night, as the Gators dropped a close one to the ‘Canes (10-0), losing 3-2.
A mix of cold temperatures, spring break and a gymnastics home finale, left a rather sparse crowd in McKethan Stadium on Friday night. Although the Gators had suffered those five consecutive losses to teams lacking in the big-name department, the feeling seemed to be that Florida would bring out its best for the hated Hurricanes.
The game started off slow for both teams until the fourth inning, when Florida starter Jonathan Crawford gave up a two-run blast to Hurricanes catcher Alex San Juan, the first homer of his career.
As the ball bounced off the empty aluminum bleachers into an equally empty parking lot, it was tough not to wonder if the game was effectively over at the point.
Although he gave up two runs, Jonathan Crawford was a major help to the Gators on Friday, going six full innings and throwing a career-high 103 pitches, allowing UF to save some of its bullpen arms.
After Daniel Gibson started the seventh inning by hitting a batter and giving up a hit, UF brought in freshman pitcher Jay Carmichael. Carmichael had been solid in his few showings on the year, but Friday night, he had one of the best performances by a UF pitcher to date.
With two on and no outs, Carmichael would strike out the first batter he faced before quickly dispatching of the next two batters.
In fact, Carmichael would strike out five — a season high — why retiring the first eight batters he faced.
With Carmichael in a zone, the Gators stepped to the plate in the eighth inning aware that the time had come for them to produce
After reaching on walk, third baseman Zack Powers quickly took second on a passed ball. Two batters later, Powers was crossing home plate on the heels of a Vickash Ramjit liner down the left field line.
With Ramjit on second and two out, Christian Dicks stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter. Dicks was impressive in his Florida debut on Tuesday, and the speedy freshman was determined to make something happen again on Friday.
Facing off against new Miami pitcher Eric Nedeljkovic, Dicks battled for a 10-pitch at-bat. While Florida couldn’t rely on power on Friday, no one said the Gators couldn’t rely on a little luck.
On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Dicks popped the ball high into the chilled air, and watched as it set to sail into Miami shortstop Brandon Lopez’s glove.
But in a twist of luck, the ball evaded capture, shocking everyone in attendance as UF scored the game-tying run on a two out infield pop fly. The error was Lopez’s third, capping a rough defensive night for the Miami freshman.
The Gators would score no more runs in the inning, but their latest at-bat had appeared propitious.
“That was a big momentum change right there,” Justin Shafer said of the dropped ball. “I thought for sure whenever that happened, we were going to come out with a win.”
Carmichael sailed through the first two batters of the ninth inning, striking out both, his fourth and fifth of the game.
Facing his ninth batter though, trouble struck for the first time as Carmichael gave up a two out- single to Chantz Mack, giving the Hurricanes hope. Carmichael attempted to keep the speedy Mack at bay, checking the runner several times at first.
With Mack as sure to take off for second as the weather was cold, Florida called for a pitchout as Mack sped down the bass path. The play wasn’t close, as Mack easily slid in for the steal.
“Obviously you got to throw somebody out on a pitch-out,” O’Sullivan would say after the game. “Kind of knew [Mack] was going … you don’t see that very often, a guy safe on a pitch-out … we got to throw people out on a pitch-out. It’s that simple.”
With Mack officially in scoring position, the ‘Canes would quickly take advantage, as David Thompson hit a single to center, driving in Mack for what would eventually be the game-winning run.
With their ninth, first and second batters up, the Gators would fail to threaten at all in the bottom of the ninth, going 1-2-3 to end the game.
The loss was the sixth straight for Florida, including the fourth of the season by one run. Although the team was clearly dejected after the game, the Gators remained upbeat by at the thought of getting another shot at the ‘Canes.
“We’re close every game,” Shafer said. “One of these times, it’s going to go our way … we still can win the series. It’s one game.”
“We have a lot of really supportive people around us,” Carmichael, who was the game’s losing pitcher, said. “We’re going to get through it.”