Florida’s 23rd-ranked baseball team (6-6) fell for the third time in four games and for the second time to the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-4) Sunday, a matinee game at McKethan Stadium that drew 3,132 fans.
One of two things usually happens for for the Gators at the plate so far in this still young season. Either they don’t hit at all — like Friday night against Illinois when they registered only three hits — or else they get hits, just not in timely fashion which is what happened Sunday. Florida and Illinois both had nine hits, but the Gators left 10 on base and plated only one as they dropped a 5-1 decision to the Illini.
When the Gators had their chances to even up the game, they came up short. Down by two in the sixth inning, the Gators got a runner to third base twice but couldn’t convert. Still down two in the seventh, Richie Martin stood on third with one out and watched the next two hitters go down.
Florida finally got a run across in the ninth when Buddy Reed scored on a sacrifice fly but it was too little and much too late.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan says he believes his team is beginning to press and the inability to score runs is affecting the Gators in other ways.
“We’re not giving ourselves a chance we’re just in a rut right now where we’re not scoring very many runs and every pitch is so important,” O’Sullivan said. “And it’s taxing on your [pitching] staff. The bottom line is we gotta stay positive we’ve gotta move this thing in the right direction.”
Against Illinois Sunday, O’Sullivan dug deep in his pitching staff, parading six arms to the mound in relief after starter A.J. Puk made it through only 3.1 innings. O’Sullivan said Puk’s struggles have a lot to do with his size, (he’s 6-7) and the fact that once his delivery gets out of sync, it’s all downhill from there for the giant left hander.
One of the few brightspots in the lineup is first baseman Peter Alonso, who went 3-4 on the day and had UF’s only extra base hit — a double to right field. He echoed frustration at being one of the only hot bats in the lineup, but has faith his team will come around.
“It’s frustrating but I mean everyone has their downtimes at the plate,” Alonso said. “So I mean I understand it. It’s baseball, it’s gonna happen so I mean it’s frustrating but at the same time I’m gonna be on base and eventually they’re gonna hit me in.”
As Alonso and the Gators look towards a midweek game Tuesday against Southern Miss in Pensacola they’ll need to start pressing the right buttons soon or a talented bunch will be stuck floundering around .500 for the second year in a row.