Florida second baseman Casey Turgeon said that the mission coming into the No. 23 Gators’ (6-5) second game of the weekend against the visiting Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-6) was simply just to “come out here and get a win.” By the time the lights were shut off at McKethan Stadium it was mission accomplished for the Gators, who shutout the visiting Eagles, 4-0, in front of 4,157 fans.
In the two previous games on Thursday and Friday the UF bats struggled. Nine hits Thursday in the first game against FGCU produced only one run in a losing effort and Friday night Illinois starter Kevin Duchene bamboozled Florida’s hitters, allowing only three hits. With a shortage of power, UF had to manufacture runs with small ball and Saturday night proved to be an industrial revolution.
In the fourth inning after a single by first baseman Peter Alonso and a walk by right fielder Braden Mattson third baseman Josh Tobias moved Alonso and Matton into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Left fielder Ryan Larson put a textbook RBI bunt single into no-man’s land between pitcher and first base to score Alonso. Right fielder Zack Powers followed with another sacrifice bunted to bring home Mattson for a 2-0 Florida lead.
In the seventh inning the Gators churned out two more. After Richie Martin stole second, Turgeon brought him home on a double to the wall in right field. Catcher Taylor Gushue followed with a double to left that scored Turgeon.
It was a 10-hit night for the Gators that allowed them to play with a lead, something that hasn’t happened much this season.
“I think anybody plays probably a little bit better when they’re ahead to be honest with you and we haven’t had many leads,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’ve had so many close games. Everything seems to be a one or two run game, it’d be nice to kinda get a cushion and jump out to a four or five run lead.”
Another pleasant surprise for the Gators in game two against the Eagles was starting pitcher Karsten Whitson who came through with his best outing of the season. Whitson gave the Gators five innings of one-hit, shutout ball, striking out one and walking two on 65 pitches. Stretching Whitson over five equaled his total number of innings in both of his previous starts combined. O’Sullivan preached the importance of getting his starter into the second half of the game.
“It was good to get Karsten through five,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s his longest outing of the year and I think his confidence levels continue to grow and I think he feels better you know each time out. And obviously today was pretty good to get him through five.”
Whitson started shakily, hitting batters in each of the first two innings but then settled into the flow of the game. He credits a mound visit by his head coach in the second inning.
“He was just calming me down,” Whitson said. “Just checking, make sure everything was slowing down for me upstairs. It was, and he was just telling me to get the ball down right here and get some ground balls.”
When Whitson came out, he handed the ball to sophomore Aaron Rhodes, who, after a foray into pitching sidearm due to injury, has reinvented himself, this time as an over the top righty with a mid-90s fastball.
“I had a feeling with how I work and everything I’d get back to normal so I just put in a lot of time and eventually got back throwing over the top pretty well,” Rhodes said.
In his first game action of the season, Rhodes was good for four shutout innings with four strikeouts (both career highs), allowing two hits and no walks. UF had reliever Ryan Harris in the bullpen warming up late in the game but decided to stick with Rhodes.
“It was a good outing and it was kinda at that point where we could have probably taken him out and we probably could have used him tomorrow but today was an important win and we showed him a vote of confidence,” O’Sullivan said.
The Gators will play their fourth game in four days Sunday when they take to the diamond Sunday to face Illinois.