Florida tuned-up for their Southeastern Conference finale against 13th ranked Vanderbilt with a 12-2 pounding of the USF Bulls on a beautiful night for baseball before 2,668 at McKethan Stadium. Every starter collected a base hit in the Gators 17 hit attack and the Florida pitching staff combined to limit the Bulls to seven hits.
I’m not so sure they were focused on USF as much as they were focused on improving and getting back in the win column before a Vanderbilt series that will help determine their post-season future.
“We need to take care of business this weekend and get the series against Vanderbilt,” junior left fielder Avery Barnes said. “Two wins pretty much assures us a spot in the SEC Tournament and if we can win two, it takes all of the factors of us relying on somebody else to help us out. So, it’s a great feeling that we still have the opportunity to get into a regional and it’s what we do on the field instead of having to rely on somebody else. It’s a good feeling and we’re going to come out and take care of business.”
It was an interesting evening as four USF students tried to match the Gators Rowdy Reptiles taunt-for-taunt. They used reworded copies of Florida and Florida State fight chants, which were mocked by the Reptiles.
Right-hander Tommy Toledo took the mound and after a slow start, took command of the game for the Gators.
“Yeah, I talked to him in-between innings after he came out and (said) you have to cut it loose,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “You can’t pitch around the barrel. That’s not you and that’s not us. If that’s the case, you’re probably only going to get two innings in and that will be the end of it. He paid attention and he went out there and attacked the hitters and he gave us three really good solid innings after that.”
The freshman pitched four innings and allowed only two hits and a walk. Toledo allowed no runs and fanned one South Florida batter. He was relieved by Kyle Mullaney (1-4), who allowed four hits and one earned run in three innings, while picking up the victory.
“For the most part they threw strikes and put the ball in play,” O’Sullivan said. “They didn’t strike out a lot of guys, but they put the ball in play early in the count. That was the thought process after Sunday’s game, we were going to run Tommy (Toledo) right back out there. There was no sense in sitting him out for a week and having him feel badly about it. His pitch count was forty-five or he got right to it. So, it was good to get him out there and he should have a little confidence going out there for the weekend.”
The Gators (31-20) jumped on USF southpaw Teddy Kaufman (3-3) with one out in the second inning. Designated hitter Jon Townsend reached with a beautiful bunt down the third base side of the plate. He easily stole second and scored when second baseman Clayton Pisani pounded Kaufman’s offering over the left field fence top stake Toledo and Florida to a 2-0 lead.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan kept Toledo on a short leash, so that he’d be available this weekend against the Commodores.
Florida exploded for four runs in the fifth. Catcher Hampton Tignor tripled to lead off the frame. South Florida skipper Lelo Prado went to his bullpen and called on left-hander David Torcise, who surrendered a single Avery Barnes that scored Tignor. Barnes advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Stull. First baseman Brandon McArthur then singled on a ball that bounced through the left side of the infield, scoring Barnes. Cole Figueroa battled back and followed with a single on an 0-2 count.
Prado once again went to his bullpen, this time opting for freshman right-hander Zach Pietrzyk, who promptly drilled Josh Adams square in the back. Had Adams gotten under the skin of the Bulls players after a hard slide at second base that forced USF shortstop Addison Maruszak to jump over him? Maruszak and a few of his Bulls teammates demonstrated a posture that indicated they were not at all happy about Adams slide after the play. Perhaps the Bulls were sending a message of their own?
The pitch loaded the bases. McArthur scored on a passed ball and center fielder Matt den Dekker’s ground ball to short scored Figueroa for 6-0 Florida lead.
USF scored their first run on a leadoff home run from right fielder Joey Angelberger to cut the Florida lead to 6-1.
The Gators unloaded in the seventh inning after getting two quick outs. Adams walked on a 3-1 pitch. Den Dekker then singled on the next pitch from reliever Junior Carlin. Townsend doubled to right-center field, scoring Adams. Pisani followed with a two-run single up the middle, scoring den Dekker and Townsend. Jonathan Pigott, who had come in for Riley Cooper in the top of the inning, deposited a home run over the left field fence to give the Gators an 11-1 lead.
“It was good for the hitters for their confidence,” O’Sullivan said. “But we’ve been swinging the bats pretty well. I like the way our offense has been coming together. We’ve been putting runs on the board.”
USF added a unearned run in the eighth after an error by reliever Tony Davis, but still held a commanding 11-2 lead.
“For the most part our starting pitching has been pretty good,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve just got to shore up our bullpen. You know, we just don’t have that guy at the end of a game who has ninety-ninety two with a secondary pitch. It’s just that we’ve been piecing it together and with experience and some guys that have been crafty and scouting reports get out. So, we’ve got to make adjustments ourselves. Our guys are our guys and we’re going to stay with them. They’ve had success in the past, but they’re going to have to find their confidence and give us some good outings down the stretch here. It’s as simple as that.”
Barnes, who went 3 for 5, ripped a triple into the right field corner to start off the bottom half of the inning. He scored on Figueroa’s double to left-center field, which ended the Florida scoring 12-2.
Florida will host Vanderbilt in a three-game series that begins on Thursday night at 6:30pm. Right-hander Billy Bullock will take the ball for the Gators.