It was a cold, wet night at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. Temperatures hovered in the 40s and a light, annoying rain began falling midway through.
The Florida Gators (7-6) overcame an early two-run deficit to beat Southern Mississippi (6-7) 4-2 in the Cox Diamond Invitational put on by the Pensacola Sports Association. Florida used timely hitting with runners in scoring position as well as some help via walks and errors to overcome the early hole they dug for themselves but at the end of the day they came out victorious and got their season record back above .500.
This was the first meeting between the two schools since Southern Mississippi swept the Gators in the Gainesville Super Regional in 2009.
The night began like those games from five year ago. The teams raced through the first three innings, combining for just four hits before the Golden Eagles got things going in the top of the fourth.
Danny Young cruised through the first nine outs of the game and was seemingly on his way to a similar inning in the fourth. Young induced a lazy fly ball to shallow right field; Braden Mattson camped under the ball but watched it bounce off the heel of his glove, allowing Michael Sterling to get on base to begin the inning. Mason Robbins wasted no time in making Florida pay for the error, doubling down the right field line on the very next pitch, plating Sterling and giving Southern Mississippi an early lead.
“Danny Young did exactly what he needed to do tonight,” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “He gave us 5.0 innings with one earned run. I mean it was unfortunate that we dropped that ball in right and he ended up scoring, but obviously, he threw the ball well.”
Young got back on track striking out Matt Durst before walking Dylan Burdeaux. Tim Lynch would single home a run before Young could get the Gators out of the inning.
Down 2-0, it took the Gator two innings to level the score.
It began with a leadoff double from Casey Turgeon. Pete Alonso grounded out softly to shortstop and Turgeon, more risky than smart, took third on the play but was ignored by Sterling. Gushue wore a 1-0 offering on the foot to give Florida men on the corners with one away. Braden Mattson made up for his error from earlier in the game, delivering the Gators their first run when he lined a fastball into left, plating Turgeon and chasing Christian Talley from the game. A.J. Puk drew a walk and Josh Tobias blooped a ball just over the shortstop to score the game-tying run.
Florida got back to work in the seventh, scoring two runs on just one hit. It was a plethora of walks and an error that fueled the Gators in the bottom half of the inning but Florida did capitalize with some timely hitting.
Richie Martin wore the first pitch of the inning on his elbow before being moved over by a Turgeon sac-bunt. Alonso drew a walk and both runners advanced 90-feet on a wild pitch with Taylor Gushue in the box. Gushue would work a walk to load the bases for the man of the night, Braden Mattson, who deposited a 2-2 offering into left field for a RBI single, Mattson’s second RBI and third hit of the night. A Tobias single would bring across the fourth and final run of the game.
Aaron Rhodes, who took over for Young in the sixth inning put the car on cruise control and guided the Gators all the way to the ninth inning. Rhodes was in total control on the mound, never letting a steady rain affect his focus and retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced before getting into a little trouble in the ninth. Ryan Harris entered the game with two outs and two men on before getting a harmless groundball to end the game.
“This team needed a win tonight and I’m pleased with us coming up here and getting the win,” O’Sullivan said. “The fans were great tonight. There were a lot of Gator fans and it was a fun night for everybody.”