The No. 5 Florida Gators (5-0) faced real adversity for the first time this season against the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (4-2) and were able to stay perfect with a walk-off win in the bottom on the ninth.
More than 20 scouts filled McKethan Stadium to see the marquee pitching matchup of the weekend between Gators righty Logan Shore and Miami lefty, Andrew Suarez. Suarez was scratched before the game with a strained oblique and his counterpart, Shore, made it only nine pitches before he was replaced after just nine pitches with an undisclosed injury.
The night promised to be a pitching duel between Suarez and Shore and it was, even with both pitchers essentially out. Senior left-hander Bobby Poyner– one of only two seniors on Florida’s roster — was called upon when Shore’s hip flexor tightened up on him in the first inning. Poyner had to race from the dugout to the bullpen down the left field line to get his glove. Kevin O’Sullivan had told Poyner he’d be the first pitcher out of the bullpen Friday night, but nobody expected it to be this early.
“Think about it, he comes in with a runner at second and a 3-1 count. He walks him on the first pitch, now they have first and second with nobody out,” O’Sullivan said. “Now they have some momentum and he puts a zero on the board. That was a lift for us. When you gotta take your starter out, your Friday night guy, the dugout is kind of quiet.”
Poyner didn’t stop there, he continued putting zeroes on the board into the fourth when the Gators bats woke up. Richie Martin started things off with a leadoff single and Harrison Bader was plunked two pitches later. Following a JJ Schwarz fly out that advanced Martin to third, a balk brought him home.
Poyner put up another zero in the fifth before getting in to trouble. He gave up a leadoff single before Willie Abreu’s double have the Canes runners at second and third with just one out. It was Poyner’s last pitch of the night as he was replaced by Mike Vinson.
Vinson quickly allowed both base runners to score (both runs credited back to Poyner) on a passed ball and a single. Miami would score a third run on wild pitch and things began to look grim for the Gators.
Buddy Reed started the bottom half of the frame off with a single, his second of the game and Martin drew a walk behind him. The Gators executed a double steal to get both men in scoring position with no outs. Back-to-back strike outs and an intentional walk left the Gators with the bases loaded and two outs, freshman Mike Rivera walked up to the plate.
Rivera worked the count to 2-1 before he drove a fastball past Christopher Barr, and A.J. Puk, at first base. Reed and Martin came around to score and the Florida bench erupted.
“He’s one of those young players that, he might go 1-for-4 but that one hit is one when you need it,” O’Sullivan said of Rivera. “He stuck his nose in there and I was just glad the ball didn’t hit Puk.”
The Canes would threaten in the seventh but Josh Tobias — who came into the game for John Sternagel — smothered a hot shot down at third base to start a 5-4-3 double play that ended the threat.
Miami again threatened — this time with even more teeth — in the eighth.
Zack Collins hit a one-out single through the left side to bring up Abreu. The tall right fielder got ahold of a 1-1 fastball, sending it deep into the night. Reed got on his horse and was somehow able to cut the ball off before it got to the wall. He turned and fired a strike to Richie Martin who was setting up the relay out on the outfield grass. Martin caught the ball, turned and fired a strike home in one, swift, seamless motion. Rivera caught a strike from Martin a good four steps before Collins slid in, out. The play saved the Gators from going down and was a turning point late.
“The relay throw from Richie, I thought Buddy did an unbelievable job cutting that ball off. Most centerfielders the ball gets to the wall,” O’Sullivan said. “He cuts it off, throws the ball to Richie, Richie throws a strike to the plate and that was a huge play.”
Harrison Bader led the bottom half of the eighth off with a double but a sac bunt followed by back-to-back strikeouts ended the inning.
Freshman Taylor Lane worked a perfect top half of the ninth before Florida’s final at bat.
Tobias wore a fastball on his left triceps, “I didn’t really feel it; it was too cold,” he said after the game. Ryan Larson sacrificed him over to second before a Dalton Guthrie strikeout.
Reed walked up to the plate.
Last weekend didn’t go well for the center fielder. Reed started the season off against Rhode Island hitting 1-for-14 (.071) he broke out on Wednesday with three hits against USF and walked up now, in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, 2-for-4.
Reed fell behind in the count but on a 1-2 offering he was able to get the barrel of his bat on an off-speed pitch and he watched it sail into shallow left field.
“Fall. The shortstop was pretty good for Miami, so please don’t catch it,” Reed said when asked what went through his mind as the ball left his bat. “Don’t throw him out at home. Josh, please score. Touch first base. Don’t trip. Then my teammates rushed out and I was just going crazy.”
Reed’s hit landed softly between shortstop George Iskenderian and center fielder Carl Chester. Tobias never watched to see if the ball landed, with two outs he was going to touch home no matter what.
Reed admitted after the game that it was the first walk off hit of his career. None in tee ball, travel ball or high school that he could remember. His first walk off hit comes in the Gators’ first rivalry game of the season and keeps the Gators’ record perfect at 5-0, their best start since 2011.
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) February 21, 2015