TALLAHASSEE- Just when the Gators had a good thing going, the wheels fell off. With Florida holding a two-run lead in the third inning, the Gators made a pair of costly base running mistakes that ended a scoring opportunity. More importantly, it reversed the positive momentum coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s team had going against the top-ranked Seminoles and led to a 4-2 win for Florida State.
“It’s kinda disappointing when we give up two runs with two outs and nobody on and we don’t slam the door,” O’Sullivan said. “(It was) the difference in the ballgame, I thought. We made the base running mistake to end the inning and the momentum changes. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
The no. 24-ranked Gators could only muster seven hits and work three walks off of Florida State starter Ryan Strauss (5-0), making the base running blunders more costly.
A Dick Howser Stadium record crowd of 6,737 continued a trend of record crowds when the Gators and Seminoles match up. A McKethan Stadium record crowd of 5,719 watched UF defeat FSU 6-1 on March 19. FSU defeated Florida 10-2 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in front of 7,215 fans on April 1.
That crowd included many familiar faces for Tallahassee native Cole Figueroa.
“I get to see some family when I’m back,” Figueroa said. “It’s not good to lose when I’m back but I came out the same way I always do.”
The Gators (24-13) started the game with a bang, albeit not without controversy. Leadoff batter Avery Barnes fouled out to third base and Matt den Dekker flied out to left field. That’s when things got interesting.
Figueroa hit a towering fly ball down the right field line, towards the Circus Tent behind the fence, and trotted around first towards second base. As Figueroa stepped on second, first base umpire Kevin Assmann casually signaled the ball had gone foul.
“It hooked around the pole,” Figueroa said. “I thought it was clear (of the pole) by twenty or thirty feet but the umpire obviously didn’t.”
O’Sullivan sprinted out of the dugout to question why it had taken so long to make the call and demanded that the other umpires be consulted.
After a few minutes of deliberation, home plate umpire Mark Chapman signaled home run, and Figueroa left the Florida dugout area to run the bases. FSU coach Mike Martin then approached Chapman for an explanation.
Josh Adams flied out to center field to end the inning with the Gators holding a 1-0 lead.
Gators starting pitcher Kyle Mullaney retired the first two batters of the game before Buster Posey singled to left field. FSU senior right fielder Jack Rye grounded out to second base after a seven-pitch at bat to end the first inning.
Florida designated hitter Bryson Barber hit a low fly ball to left field, out of the reach of diving FSU left fielder Ohmed Danesh and shortstop Tony Delmonico, and hurried to second base with a leadoff double in the top of the second inning. Barber advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Jon Townsend, and scored on an RBI groundout to shortstop by Clayton Pisani. Buddy Munroe struck out swinging on three pitches to end the inning with UF leading 2-0.
The Seminoles (32-3) duplicated the Gators by getting a leadoff double of their own in the second inning. However, Dennis Guinn’s two-bagger was squandered when Delmonico struck out and Tommy Oravetz grounded into a double play.
Following a leadoff strikeout by Jonathan Pigott, the Gators looked to start a rally when Barnes doubled to left field in the third inning. A pair of base running blunders ended the inning via an unconventional double play. Matt den Dekker hit a ground ball back to Strauss, who chased down Barnes near third base, then threw back to first base to catch den Dekker off of the bag.
“We ran ourselves out of an inning, the momentum changes and the next thing you know they’ve got two on the board,” O’Sullivan said. “The same thing happened on Sunday. We had the base running mistake with Bryson Barber and next thing you know they score two the next inning. We’re just not playing really sound. When you play really good teams you can’t afford to make mistakes, bottom line.”
FSU coach Mike Martin was impressed, but not surprised by Strauss’ play.
“It’s one of the few times where a guy can get an unassisted putout and an assist,” Martin said “It was a great display of athleticism and certainly we had the ball in the man’s hand that we wanted in that situation because Rhino is an athlete. He can do a number of things. He’s not just a pitcher. He’s an exceptional athlete.”
Florida State tied the game in the third with a two-out rally. Tyler Holt and Jason Stidham each hit singles, but they didn’t spend much time on base. FSU catcher Buster Posey hit the first pitch he saw from Mullaney for a two RBI-double.
Barber got his second hit of the game in the fourth inning, but was stranded on base when Townsend struck out. Barber was denied an RBI opportunity when Figueroa was caught stealing at third base after successfully stealing second base.
Florida State added a run in the fourth when Danesh drove in Delmonico with a sacrifice fly to center field. The Seminoles had three singles in the fourth, but stranded two runners.
Mullaney got out of a jam in the fifth, stranding two runners on base without allowing a run.
“Kyle threw real well tonight,” Figueroa said. “He’s been struggling of late, but he definitely came out and competed tonight and that’s all we can ask of him.
Mullaney (0-3) worked five innings, allowing nine hits and three runs.
Strauss got the top of the Gators’ lineup to ground out to the right side to get out of the sixth inning on 11 pitches.
“(Strauss) threw good,” O’Sullivan said. “He used his fastball early in the game, we got a couple of runs early, but he held it together. I think the biggest inning for him was the sixth. We led off the inning with Avery at the top of the order and he came out and threw nothing but off-speed pitches. We hit three balls weakly. He did a good job of changing up during the middle of the game there at the top of the order. I thought that was the difference in the game for us offensively. Because if we were going to do something, we needed to do something that inning.”
Left-hander Stephen Locke took over for Mullaney in the bottom of the sixth inning and got pinch hitter Jack Posey to ground out to shortstop. Another pinch hitter, Mike McGee followed with a single to left field. Stuart Tapley flied out to the warning track in right-center field for the second out. Tyler Holt hit a single but both runners were left on base when Stidham grounded out to first base to end the inning.
Barber would get another hit in the seventh inning, the first Gators hit since his single in the fourth but was left on base.
Dustin Bamberg pinch-hit for catcher Munroe to lead off the eighth inning, but flied out to center field on a 2-2 pitch, Strauss’s hundredth pitch of the game. Pigott walked and Barnes singled before den Dekker flied out to left. Figueroa, who began the game batting .343 with 38 RBI, grounded out to second base in what would be the Gators final opportunity with runners on base.
“We just have to get it back,” Figueroa said. “We’re struggling right now, we’re going through a little scuffle. Hopefully we can get it on track and get it going again. We just have to adjust.”
FSU finished with twelve hits, all but one of which was a single.
“They never quit,” Figueroa said. “You’ve got to admire them for that. They swung the bats a little better tonight.
“We have to get it going. Right now we’re scuffling. We just have to get it back on track and win some SEC games and keep playing well.”
Florida State’s win in the rubber match of the season series closed another chapter in a longstanding rivalry between the schools.
“The only thing that is a little tougher is the rivalry,” Figueroa said. “A loss is a loss. At the very least, it’s not an SEC game. They’re a good team, but we go out to win every game. There’s no losses that hurt us even more. We’ve got to get on with the season and focus on Kentucky this weekend.”
When the Gators defeated the Seminoles in Gainesville, O’Sullivan became the first Florida head coach to win his initial encounter with FSU since Joe Arnold’s win in 1984. O’Sullivan coached against Florida State while an assistant at Clemson from 2002-07.
“It’s still the same Florida State team, they’re well coached and you’ve got to play well,” O’Sullivan said. “You’ve got to play really well, you can’t afford to make mistakes. Regardless of what uniform you’ve got on, they’re a quality club. They’ve been doing it for a long time. We’ve just got to play a little bit better.”
Florida State coach Mike Martin said the in-state rivalry was a unique opportunity for former teammates to face off against each other.
“A lot of guys grew up with each other,” Martin said. “You’ve got guys from Orlando on both teams, Winter Haven, Miami. It’s just a great rivalry. We just happened to get some breaks tonight. It was a good baseball game.”
The Gators will travel to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend. Florida looks to win an SEC series for the first time since taking two of three against LSU at the end of March. Florida lost two of three to both Tennessee and Arkansas since then.
“We’ve got to do all three phases well,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got to hit better, we’ve got to pitch better and we’ve got to play better defense. We’ve got to do it over an extended period of time as well. We can’t just pitch well one game and play good defense one game and then point then finger at the offense because we can come out on Friday night and score seven runs and give up eight.
“Right now we’re just in a little bit of a funk and we’re going to have to pull ourselves out of it. We can’t point fingers. We do have to swing the bats a little bit better, no question.
“We’re all frustrated. We’ve got 19 games left and we’ve got to band together. Nineteen tough games. We’re not going to start pointing fingers, we’re not going to start blaming people or each other, we’ve got to band together as a team and play well on the road this week in Kentucky. We’ll go back, have a good practice tomorrow, travel up there on Thursday and have a good practice up there. We’ve just got to play better altogether. I’m not going to allow these guys to start pointing fingers at the offense or pitching or defense. That’s not going to happen. Not going to happen.”