It was hard to tell which was hotter on this late April Saturday afternoon during the Florida Gators (29-15/14-6) 5-0 victory over the Missouri Tigers (19-23/6-14): Aaron Rhodes on the mound or the noontime sun high in the air. The sophomore righty started the game by walking his counterpart, Missouri’s Eric Anderson. He then proceeded to strike out the side in the first, but that was only after befuddling his head coach.
“I felt really good about him going into the game,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought his [bull]pen Wednesday was good, Brad said pen was good before the game. He took his time before the game, he seemed focus, it just didn’t all add up I know it’s just the first hitter but a guy’s gotta be ready to go from the first batter.”
To say Rhodes locked in after that first hitter would be an understatement.
Through six innings, Rhodes was only at a pitch count of 70. Through seven, he had faced only two hitters over the minimum. At the end of the eighth, he had retired 15 straight and would breaze through the ninth to sit down 18-straight by the time it was over. His 100th pitch was a third strike to the second batter of the ninth inning; it also tied his career-high with six strikeouts.
It was the second consecutive night of dominant starting pitching from UF after Logan Shore’s Friday night start that featured the freshman going 7.1 innings, allowing five hits and striking out five as well. Rhodes threw a total of 102 pitches in his complete game, one hit shutout of the Missouri Tigers, who are ranked last in the SEC in scoring — and it showed.
“In my mind I knew I only gave up one hit all day. The one hit that I did give up, he earned it, I thought it was a good pitch, but whatever,” Rhodes said.
On the offensive end, the Gators, in their coach’s words “scratched and clawed” their way to five runs, they got a little help as well from a Missouri team that had three errors on the day including two in one play that gave Florida its second run. In the next at-bat Casey Turgeon singled to the right side to score UF’s third run.
The Gators did end up caught in a total of five double plays, including one that produced a run in the third inning when Taylor Gushue scored in the midst of a 3-6-3 turn of two. Aligned with the theme of the day, Gushue had advanced into scoring position after a wild pitch, then advanced to third due to Missouri’s first error of the day.
After taking the series, Florida looks forward to what they term “championship Sunday,” a chance to get a sweep and stay in the drivers’ seat atop the SEC regular season race.
“We got a chance to get another win tomorrow, and tomorrow’s game is just as important as last night and today,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re all important, and you know we need to come out ready to play. We’re not gonna let up now. We had our mulligan in the midweek where we kinda let our guard down and that’s not gonna happen again, we’re gonna stay focused.”