After falling into an early deficit the Florida Gators found power from an unlikely source on the way to a 6-2 win over the Jacksonville Dolphins on Wednesday night at McKethan Stadium.
Through the first 43 games of the season Christian Hicks had one home run. Hicks, a utility infielder, has been invaluable for Kevin O’Sullivan this season, playing all four infield positions while the team has battled through various injuries. He’s hit well, he just hadn’t hit for power. That changed this week. Hicks followed his home run against FAMU on Tuesday with two more on Wednesday, and it was almost three.
“I’ve been trying to get my load in a little bit earlier to help me see the pitches better,” Hicks said of his recent power surge. “I guess it’s working out pretty well for me.”
O’Sullivan used the rare late season double midweek game to get some freshmen innings. Nick Long, who hadn’t pitched since March 17th vs. Auburn, drew the start and was solid, although somewhat wild through two innings. Long found trouble in the third with Florida holding a 1-0 lead.
Long walked Nathan Koslowski and Scott Dubrule to start the frame before getting the hook. O’Sullivan turned to another freshman, Nate Brown, in a tough situation.
“We were trying to get three innings out of Nick (Long). I really don’t like bringing those young pitchers into the middle of the inning. I’d rather them start the inning,” O’Sullivan said of having to bring Brown in with two on and no outs in the third.
Brown walked Evan Fernandez to load the bases and Sam Armstrong to tie the game. Brown got Mike Cassala to ground out to second, but another run scored giving JU a 2-1 lead. Brown was able to stop the bleeding there, ending the third with a strikeout and groundout.
“Nate was put in a tough position, first and second, nobody out, but he did get a couple of punch outs, even though he did walk the guy in, he got a couple of punch outs and kept it just to two runs,” said O’Sullivan. “It could have got away from us at that point.”
Hicks’ first home run of the night came an inning later with one out in the fourth inning. Hicks worked a 3-1 count, waited for a fastball and hit a no-doubter over the wall in right field, almost identical to his home run from 24 hours before.
Brown worked a scoreless fifth and retired the first batter he faced in the sixth inning before a one-out double ended his night. Nick Horvath took over on the mound, getting out of he jam with back-to-back strikeouts. Austin Langworthy (2-3) led Florida’s half of the sixth off with a single to center and moved to second when Blake Reese grounded out to first. JJ Schwarz (2-4) flew out, bringing Hicks up to the plate with two outs. He wasted no time, jumping on a first pitch fastball that he sent over the right field wall to give Florida a 4-2 lead.
The Gators added two more runs in the seventh inning and turned to freshman Tyler Dyson in the eighth inning. Dyson hadn’t thrown since facing South Carolina more than a week ago but showed a new arm slot and a tighter slider. The freshman needed just 10 pitches to retire the side in the eighth and five to close out the ninth inning.
Florida will host Ole Miss this weekend for a three-game series. The Gators trail Kentucky by one game in the SEC East with nine conference games to play. Kentucky hosts Georgia, who Florida swept in Athens last weekend.