When Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan looked up at the scoreboard during the Gators’ 5-3 win against the UNF Ospreys and saw his team trailing 3-0 in the second inning, he wondered if he and the crowd of 3,153 was experiencing déjà vu.
“I was a little nervous when we were down by three again,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought it was a replay of the last time we played them.”
Florida starting pitcher and Jacksonville native Kyle Mullaney worked six innings and struck out five batters to give the Gators (22-10) the first win against his hometown team in school history.
Mullaney labored to get UNF batters out early in the game, allowing several sharply-hit balls in the first two innings.
“I’ve been up and down,” Mullaney said. “The one thing I need to start doing is be consistent. I need to keep that consistency and start playing better for the team.
Mullaney allowed 11 hits but allowed only three runs in the win, something O’Sullivan was grateful for after the game.
“Kyle battled,” O’Sullivan said. “Even though he gave up eleven hits, he gave us six innings. That was important for him to do because if we had to go deep into our bullpen in the first game of the week, when we’ve got four more ahead, it could have set the tone for the entire week. The bottom line is he gave up three (runs) over six (innings). We’ll take that anytime.”
O’Sullivan credited Mullaney with improving as the game went on.
“His changeup improved tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “He threw some pretty good changeups the second and third times through the order. It got him off his fastball. Hopefully he’ll feel good about it, I certainly do. Anytime you go out against somebody and give up three runs over six innings, that’s a quality start.”
Mullaney threw 111 pitches, 73 for strikes, in the game, giving the Florida bullpen a much-needed break.
Sophomore Jonathan Pigott put the Gators ahead on a two-out RBI single in the seventh inning
“The biggest thing with that is he hit a breaking ball,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s been struggling with that. He’s worked really hard. Good things happen when you work hard. He stayed on that breaking ball and hit it hard on the ground. Hopefully that will be a good jumpstart for him.”
Pigott had been mired in a 1-for-25 slump entering the game.
“It’s been a while since I got one of those, so I’m pretty pleased,” Pigott said. “I got the pitch I was looking for and squared it up. I just have to keep focused and keep working at it and know that the game is going to come back to (me) at some point.”
Usually a reserved and non-demonstrative player, Pigott enthusiastically clapped his hands after reaching base.
“It’s a big win. We’ve been struggling to win games, so it’s a good breakout to come back and beat them.
Florida relief pitcher Josh Edmondson (3-1) earned the win, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings.
Each of Florida’s first five batters had at least two hits. The Gators had 15 total hits, including three doubles.
The Gators were 0-3 against UNF (18-14) entering the game, something that O’Sullivan wasn’t concerned with.
“I’m not really worried about the losing streak to (UNF),” O’Sullivan said. “It’s most important for us because we get started off on the right foot this week. The key to the game was Kyle giving us six innings. We had to go deep into the game. We haven’t had that in a while in a midweek game.”
“We fought from behind,” O’Sullivan said. “Anytime you fall behind three runs after two innings you feel desperate. It starts with Kyle on the mound. He didn’t cave.”
It was Mullaney’s third start of the season, and first since Feb. 29 at Miami.
“Our pitching has been going through a lot,” Mullaney said. “We’ve had a lot of guys throwing a lot of innings. I wanted to give them as many innings as I could to save some guys for tomorrow and this weekend because our arms are getting a little tired. But, we’re still battling and pitching through it.”
Diminuative UNF left fielder Andrew Hannon clobbered the first pitch of the second inning deep to left-center field for a double. The blast would have been a home run if not for the stiff breeze blowing in from left field. The following batter, Andy Warren, hit a hard line drive into the left field bleachers to give the Ospreys a 2-0. After allowing another hard hit to right-center field, O’Sullivan visited Mullaney on the mound.
The Ospreys followed with two more hits off of Mullaney before scoring on a bases-loaded walk to take a 3-0 lead. Mullaney got the final out of the second inning to leave the bases loaded, but allowed five hits in the inning.
“I just tried to stay focused and I tried to battle I knew that if I kept them at three (runs) our team would score runs,” Mullaney said. “I started getting a feel for my changeup and my breaking ball a little bit better. I started to throw it harder, which I needed to do. In the first couple of innings it was kind of loopy. I definitely started to feel better as the game went on.”
“We needed this game,” Mullaney said. “We needed to start rebounding back and start winning some games. We lost a couple of tough ones at Tennessee. We needed this bad. This helps us a lot.”
Mullaney entered the game with an ERA of 8.27, mostly pitching out of the bullpen.
“My confidence never really went away,” Mullaney said. “I was scuffling there for a little while. I knew I would bounce back. It definitely should have been sooner than this. I just need to build off of this and keep battling.”
North Florida coach Dusty Rhodes and 2007 freshman All-American second baseman T.J. Thompson were forced to listen to the game on radio from the team bus after being suspended from the game by the Atlantic Sun Conference for the game after both were ejected during last week’s game against the Gators. Thompson is batting .306 with 19 RBI this season.
Thompson and Mullaney were teammates at Jacksonville Bishop Kenny High School.
“T.J. is a great player,” Mullaney said. “He’s had success against us in the past. For us, it doesn’t matter who is hitting. We just have to stay with our pitching plan and hit our spots and the rest will take care of itself.”
Den Dekker led off the fifth inning with a ground ball to second base. His speed forced Sam Perry to rush his throw, pulling the first baseman off of the bag and allowing den Dekker to reach on an infield hit. Cole Figueroa grounded to shortstop for a double play to erase den Dekker, marking just the tenth time the Gators have hit into a double play this season.
“That was pretty good when he turned that single into a double,” O’Sullivan said. “He didn’t break stride at all. He hustles.”
Josh Adams singled to left field, Bryson Barber singled to right field and Jon Townsend reached on an infield hit to shortstop to load the bases, but the Gators would strand all three runners when Clayton Pisani’s ground ball hit Barber in the leg to end the inning with the score tied 3-3.
Pigott replaced Riley Cooper in right field to begin the sixth inning. UNF second baseman Perry popped out to third base to begin the inning. Ryan Lowe bunted to third base for an infield single without drawing a throw from Townsend. Lowe stole second base, but was left stranded with TJ Gaudy struck out and Chad Knight grounded out to second base.
UNF sent Tucker Pryor (3-2) to the mound to begin the sixth inning. Pryor entered the game with a 3.24 ERA and 2-2 record in eight relief appearances. Avery Barnes singled to left field with two outs after Pigott grounded out to shortstop Buddy Munroe struck out swinging. Barnes stole second base when UNF catcher Ryan Lowe’s throw went into center field because shortstop Chad Knight fell down while attempting to cover the base. Barnes had stolen 15-of-17 bases successfully before the play, but looked to have been caught had fielder not fallen down. Barnes advanced to third base, but was left there when Cole Figueroa grounded into a fielder’s choice to shortstop to end the inning. Matt den Dekker was out at second base, having reached via a walk.
Jacksonville native Teddy Foster replaced Buddy Munroe at catcher to begin the seventh inning. Relief pitcher Tony Davis struck out Preston Hale for the first out and looked to strike out Travis Martin for the second out, but the UNF designated hitter lined a 2-2 pitch to right field for a single. Tony Davis threw Andy Hannon a first-pitch ball, prompting Kevin O’Sullivan to leave the dugout and summon Josh Edmondson from the bullpen mid-at bat. Edmondson threw one pitch to end the inning, getting Hannon to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Josh Adams grounded out on a close play to begin the seventh inning. Bryson Barber hit his first double of the season to right field, safely sliding into second base head-first. Townsend flied out to left field for the second out. Tucker Pryor’s 2-2 pitch hit Clayton Pisani to extend the inning for Pigott’s first plate appearance of the game. Pigott hit a curve ball to left field to drive in Bryson Barber.
Teddy Foster grounded to shortstop, but the throw appeared to pull the first baseman off of the bag momentarily. O’Sullivan exited the dugout to discuss the play with first base umpire Randy Harvey, but the inning ended with the Gators leading 4-3.
Florida added an insurance run in the eighth on an RBI single off of Ty Pryor by Figueroa that scored Barnes. Barnes led off the inning with his third hit of the night and took third on a single into right field by den Dekker. Figueroa drove a single into right for a 5-3 Florida lead before Adams flew out to right field and den Dekker was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw.
The teams will play the rubber game of their regular-season series Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium.
Left-handed pitcher Stephen Locke (2-1, 3.78 ERA) will start for the Gators.
Injured first baseman Brandon McArthur was in uniform in the dugout during the game. McArthur suffered a ruptured ACL in his right knee during last week’s game against UNF. O’Sullivan said that McArthur will miss the next 2-3 weeks, but could possibly return to the lineup.
“He’s in great spirits,” O’Sullivan said. “In his mind, he’s hoping to come back soon. It’s one of those things that he’ll eventually have to have it worked on, but in his mind he’s expecting to come back. I’ll let (team trainer John Barrett) do his magic and see what happens.”
O’Sullivan said he’s never dealt with a player trying to overcome this injury, but didn’t rule out the possibility that McArthur could play again.
“I’ve see guys be able to come back,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re not 100 percent, but they are able to perform a little bit. I think the key is to see how the rehab guys and see how much it strengthens over the year. It wasn’t really swollen, so that’s a good sign.”
Right-handed pitcher Adam Allen was in uniform for the first time this season, wearing number 34, after joining the baseball team after the conclusion of the basketball season.
When asked when Allen might pitch for the Gators, O’Sullivan said “probably as quick as possible.”
“I want to be fair to him,” O’Sullivan said. “I don’t want to put him into a situation where he’s going to be uncomfortable, but quite frankly we don’t have a whole lot of time to experiment. Potentially we could (use him this weekend). We might get him out there tomorrow night. We’re still undecided about who we’re going to start tomorrow. We’ll figure that out tonight.”
“We don’t have a lot of luxury because there’s not a whole lot of days off,” O’Sullivan said. “The only day we have off is Thursday. If he doesn’t get into tomorrow night’s game, we’ll probably have him throw to hitters on Thursday and see how he looks. There’s no sense in holding him back. He’s with us and we need him. He threw a bullpen (session) yesterday. He’s got a good arm. You don’t want to put too much pressure on him. He hasn’t faced hitters in an awful long time. He’s got a good breaking ball. He’s competitive. He’s already gone through the basketball schedule and that’s certainly not easy. As far as competitiveness goes, he’s probably ready to go.”