Rarely does a player receive a standing ovation after flying out, but Florida’s Josh Tobias was deserving after “grinding it out” as the Gators often say.
Tobias’ 13-pitch, fourth-inning at-bat — along with a no-hitter by starter Jonathon Crawford — keyed Florida’s 4-0 victory against Bethune-Cookman in front of 3,285 fans in McKethan Stadium on Friday.
The top-seeded Gators (43-18) will play second-seeded Georgia Tech (37-24) at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Gainesville Regional winner’s bracket after the Yellow Jackets defeated College of Charleston 8-4 in Friday’s opener.
“What a way to start the regional play,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “The guy on my right [Crawford] had a special night — great night by him. We needed a good start by our starting pitcher.
“I thought their starting pitcher was going to be just outstanding tonight, which he was. I thought we did a good job of getting his pitch count up.”
While Florida’s batters battled Gonzalez — who entered the game with a 9-1 record and regional-best 1.96 ERA — no at-bat was as crucial as Tobias’ in getting Gonzalez’ pitch count up.
Tobias fouled off pitch after pitch — nine total — to extend Wildcats’ ace Rayan Gonzalez’ outing. The senior right-hander’s pitch count climbed from 71 to 84 during Tobias’ at-bat.
He was never quite the same.
“Even though it ended up good for us, the result of the actual at-bat ended up good for them,” said Bethune-Cookman coach Jason Beverlin. “That’s an unbelievable job. A great team at-bat.”
“Any time you extend the at-bat 13 pitches like that, you’re going to drive the pitch count up and they were able to get Rayan out of the game earlier than any of us would like.”
By the sixth, Gonzalez’ day was done after 108 pitches. The first batter BC reliever Brayan Rivera faced was Casey Turgeon, who went inside-out on a first-pitch fastball for a three-run home run over the left field fence to create the final margin.
“That was the first pitch of the at-bat and I was just trying to get ahead,” Rivera said.
Turns out, Turgeon knew that as well.
“When a reliever comes in, they want to jump ahead. They want to set the tone,” Turgeon said. “So I was looking fatsball and he threw it and I hit it well.”
A left-handed batter, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound freshman went the opposite way to give the Gators a four-run lead, which was more than enough cushion for Crawford, who was on cruise control.
So much opposite-field power from such a small guy surprised the Wildcats’ coach.
“What can you say? He got into it. I don’t think anybody in here expected it,” Beverlin said. “For anybody on their field to go opposite field like that, it’s impressive. For him to do it, it’s very impressive. It really is.
“That’s as good as he’s going to hit the ball, no doubt.”
O’Sullivan wasn’t surprised.
“I thought when the ball left his bat that the ball was gone,” O’Sullivan said. “He stayed behind the ball really good. You can kind of tell from ground level if a guy hits it good. I was not surprised when the ball went out. I thought when he hit it, it had a chance to get out.”
Preston Tucker, who returned for his senior season instead of entering the MLB Draft for this postseason, provided perspective.
“It’s 10 games to win the world series, so that’s what we’re focused on,” said Tucker, who was 2-for-4. “We want to get the first win. It’s easy to go out there and play when Crawford is throwing the way he did. We obviously have some things to work, but the guys played pretty well.
“I think if we have good at-bats and good approaches and timely hitting, our pitching is going to do the job.”
Turgeon, who extended his career-best hitting streak to seven games, went 3-for-4 with a career-high seven RBI.
He was on second base during Tobias’ game-changing at-bat.
“I got my work in running-wise,” Turgeon said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd of reporters. “It was an awesome at-bat — He grinded it out.”