With a freshman pitcher making his first start, in Florida’s first SEC game, the Gators secured their first Friday night victory of the season, defeating No. 10 Kentucky by a score of 4-1.
The Gators rode a three-run seventh inning to the victory, but Florida was the beneficiary of solid pitching during its conference opener.
Up until Friday, freshman Jay Carmichael had quietly put together Florida’s best season for a pitcher. Sporting a 2-1 record and a 2.00 ERA heading into the game, Carmichael had flashed the potential to be a dependable starter, but Kevin O’Sullivan admitted after the game he wasn’t sure how Carmichael would handle his first career start.
“I didn’t really know quite what to expect to be quite honest with you,” O’Sullivan said after Carmichael had thrown 5 2/3 innings with two strikeouts. “It’s his first start. Kind of put a lot on his plate. I made a point of it yesterday for him not to overanalyze … I didn’t want him to do anything different that what he’s been doing.”
Despite being a first year player, at times, Carmichael has had the look of an experienced upperclassman, keeping his cool in pressure situations to work himself out of jams. The fourth inning on Friday was one of those moments.
After plunking J.T. Riddle and walking two more batters, Carmichael forced Michael Thomas into a two-out pop fly to get the Gators out of the inning.
When asked what makes Carmichael effective, O’Sullivan offered up a simple explanation.
“He throws strikes,” O’Sullivan said. “He can throw something other than a fastball in a fastball count. That’s what pitching’s all about, it’s about changing speeds, disrupting the timing of the hitter and he has the ability to do that.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” sophomore Josh Tobias said. “People don’t give him credit for it sometimes, but he’s a really intense pitcher and he’s got a mental fortitude … he did great.”
Carmichael said he was surprised when he learned he would be getting the starting nod, and noted that despite the success of his outing, Florida’s offense was a boon to his evening as well.
“It makes everything a lot more comfortable to pitch with,” Carmichael said. “Pitching behind, you got to make sure you don’t score any runs, but when you’re ahead it gives them a little wiggle room.
“We needed that extremely bad.”
The Gators’ first run of the night came in the third inning, but before the scoring play, the game’s ugly side reared its head momentarily.
In the top half of the frame, with Kentucky at bat, things got a bit chippy between the clubs when after being knocked to the ground by Vicaksh Ramjit during a rundown, UK’s Michael Reida shoved Ramjit in retaliation.
On the next play, as he was being thrown out at first after a ground ball, Lucas Witt appeared to intentionally step on the foot of Ramjit as he crossed the bag. The play brought out both coaches, who engaged in a brief shouting match before returning to their respective dugouts.
Florida’s first two batters in the bottom of the inning were immediately retired, but one of UF’s recently slumping players decided to deliver in a big way.
Prior to Friday night, Tobias had struggled at the plate, forcing O’Sullivan to even bench him at one point. However, with one swing of the bat, Tobias may have gotten himself back on track, as he sent A.J. Reed’s first offering screaming over the right field fence.
The hit was the Gators’ first of the extra base variety in 22 innings, and perhaps even more importantly, gave the team some much needed momentum.
“It felt really good,” Tobias said after his 2-for-2 performance. “I was looking for a good pitch to drive, and he threw it up there, so I just out a put a good swing on it.”
Added O’Sullivan: “Offensively, Josh hitting a home run there in the third was a huge emotional lift. I think it was en emotional lift for him, it was emotional lift for us.”
The Gators would wait until the seventh to do most of their damage. After both Zack Powers and Brady Roberson reached on errors, the Gators scored their second run of the game when a Connor Mitchell single bought Powers home.
With Christian Dicks pinch running for Roberson the speedy freshman reached third after a sac bunt by Tobias, and was promptly brought home after a Casey Turgeon single to right. Harrison Bader would hit a hard to shot to the shortstop, who elected to throw it home with a hard-charging Mitchell motivated to score.
Mitchell slid hard into the plate, jarring the ball loose, and giving the Gators the only runs they would need.
Ryan Harris was ultimately awarded the win after tossing two scoreless innings for Florida.
The Gators will throw staff ace Jonathon Crawford on Saturday with a chance to take the series.
O’Sullivan revealed after the game that despite, matching up well with Kentucky on Saturday, he’s not worried about the Wildcats. He’s too busy thinking about his own group.
“The only thing I’m worried about is us,” O’Sullivan said. “In years past, I’d always worry about the other team and what they brought to the table. To be honest with you, at this stage of the game, all I’m concerned about is us.”