GAINESVILLE — Instead of a let down, Florida never let up.
After sweeping Miami a year ago, Florida was shut out against Georgia Southern the following Tuesday.
So after sweeping Miami this past weekend, the Gators entered Tuesday’s game looking to avoid repeating last season’s Hurricanes hangover.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan reminded players about past post-Miami let downs before Tuesday’s game against Florida Atlantic.
“We have not played our best baseball for whatever reason after the Miami series,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a great weekend down at Miami, but the reality of it is it’s over. And we needed to move on and we needed to focus on FAU tonight … We had success this weekend, but it’s over and done with.
“And I kind of challenged them a little bit to be focused for this week.
The Coach’s challenge certainly was met after Florida (11-1) hammered FAU 16-1 in front of 2,803 in McKethan Stadium. It was a season high in runs and all nine Gators starters recorded a hit, including a pair of homers by Mike Zunino as well as a homer and five RBI by nine-hole batter Tyler Thompson.
In 2009, after Florida was swept at home by Miami, the Gators beat Stetson 5-3 the following Tuesday before losing to Florida Atlantic 7-6 that Wednesday. They lost against Florida State and Kent State following the 2007 Miami series.
Zunino, a junior catcher, said players took the same mindset overall and approach offensively that worked so well against Miami. That also included remembering what it was like in the weeks that followed playing the ‘Canes in years past in hopes of avoiding a potential let down.
“We definitely went in with our guard up, knowing we couldn’t fall into the trap of that,” Zunino said. “We just came out trying to respond and hop on them early and we got a good start from Bobby (Poyen).
“It was a good, team win after a good weekend for us. Tuesday’s been rough for us the last couple of years, so we just tried to come out focused and we got a good start from Bobby and just tried to build on that.”
Build on that they did. With Poyen, the UF starting pitcher, dealing on the mound, the Gators quickly began pounding Owls starter Jake Meier, who threw a decent running fastball but kept leaving it high in the zone.
Nolan Fontana set the tone for the game with a leadoff double off the right field wall. He scored a two-run homer by Zunino, who turned on an inside fastball and launched it over the left field bleachers to highlight a three-run inning.
The Gators then put together their best offensive inning of the season, scoring six runs in the second to end Meier’s outing. It was the most runs Florida has scored in a single inning this season. It scored five runs in the ninth to come from behind to beat Miami on Sunday, completing the series sweep.
Looking back over those three innings going back to Sunday’s ninth, the Gators scored whopping 14 runs. They continued the string of consecutive innings with multiple runs scored with two more in the third and three more in the fourth. “Seeing the ball better” was the consensus explanation by O’Sullivan, Zunino and Thompson after the game.
Thompson’s homer cleared the scoreboard over the right center field wall in the third. He finished 2 for 4 while Zunino, who hammered another inside fastball for a homer in the fourth, was 3 for 3 and matched Thompson’s five RBI total.
While the offense was impressive and the defense only made one error, seeing Poyen pitching so well was perhaps the bigger story of the game. He was near perfect in his fifth appearance of the season after recovering from a surgery to repair of torn labrum in his left (pitching) arm in April.
Poyen, a freshman out of Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central High, allowed no earned runs while scattering three hits over four innings. He threw 46 strikes in 63 pitches. He had success locating a two-seam fastball and an array of offspeed pitches for strikes, especially on the first pitch to batters.
O’Sullivan said he has not been surprised by Poyen’s performances thus far — he signed the southpaw because he was aware of his potential — although he has been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Poyen has returned to full strength after surgery.
“If you’re a left-hander,” O’Sullivan said. “and you’re throwing 88-92 (mph) and you throw four pitches for strikes, you’ve got a chance to pitch for an awfully long time in this game … He’s a bulldog. He’s competitive and he throws strikes.”
Florida will try to avoid another possible let down when it hosts Florida A&M at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
• O’Sullivan also was pleased with the performances of relievers Kennan Kish, Ryan Harris and Corey Stump. The trio combined to pitch the final five innings while not allowing any runs on seven hits. Kish, using a running fastball and big breaking ball in his UF debut, struck out three and walked one while Harris fanned two batters.
“It was good to get Keenan back out there tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “And I thought Ryan threw the ball outstanding. His ball is heavy and it’s hard and it’s moving. It sinks. It’s a really live arm. It was good to get him out there and it was good to get Stump out there as well (for his UF debut). I thought he threw the ball good. It was good to get three of the four guys that are freshmen out there … Hopefully we can get some stuff out of (Stump) because he’s really talented enough.”
• O’Sullivan also noted the fact that Thompson has continued to evolve as a hitter. Last season, he struggled against left-handed pitchers at times, but Thompson said he simply goes into each at-bat with the same mindset of hitting the ball out over the plate, whether he is facing a right-hander or left-hander.
“I think he’s much more balanced and he’s not swinging at balls out of the zone,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s seeing the ball better and he’s staying back. He’s using his hands and he’s not chasing. He’s getting a lot of offensive (pitch) counts. He’s staying on balls better and he’s using the other side of the field better.”
• As far as which pitcher will get the starting nod against Florida A&M on Wednesday, O’Sullivan said he was unsure because he hadn’t visited with his assistant coaches much. He didn’t return to Gainesville until Tuesday afternoon after staying in Miami to recruit. He said Austin Maddox is a strong possibility to get the start, but added that Justin Shafer also is a possibility.