JACKSONVILLE — Mike Rivera entered Tuesday night’s game hitting just .234. The junior catcher had struggled at the plate all season but stepped up to the plate in the first inning with an opportunity to break the game open.
Rivera worked the count to 2-2 and got a changeup from Florida State starter Andrew Karp. Rivera waited back and hit the ball high to left field, carrying over the wall and into the waiting arms of a young fan to give Florida a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, leading the Gators’ path to a 4-1 win.
“I did watch it,” Rivera said with a laugh. “Usually if the ball is in the air I’ll watch it because I’m not very fast. I don’t really have to bust it.”
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) March 28, 2017
Rivera’s two-run home run at this same field last year was also the difference in that game. The home run gave freshman starter Garrett Milchin a solid lead to work with.
Milchin, an Orlando native, said he was used to pitching in front of may be 200 fans during high school games. Walking out in front of 8,924 fans at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville was a little breathtaking.
“Nothing like this,” he said. “This crowd was awesome, 9,000, that’s big, that’s awesome.”
The freshman gave up a leadoff single but worked around it retiring the next six batters in succession. Milchin walked two batters in the third inning, working around both of those and didn’t allow another hit until a two-out infield single in the fourth inning. Milchin has pitched sparingly this season. The young right-hander impressed his head coach early but was sidelined to start the season after Keenan Bell line a ball back up the middle, hitting Milchin in his throwing hand. Milchin was lucky there was only bruising, but came into this start having thrown just 7.1 innings previously.
“I’ll be honest with you I think I made a mistake not pitching him more,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said. “What he did tonight doesn’t surprise me. I needed to get him out there.”
The freshman worked into the fifth inning. He walked the leadoff batter before Matt Henderson popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt.
O’Sullivan went to the bullpen, bringing in another freshman arm, Nate Brown. Brown walked Taylor Walls but induced Jackson Lueck into an inning-ending double play.
Brown gave up a one out double to Quincy Nieporte, who scored when Rhett Aplin singled but, for the most part, the Gators’ bullpen was unhittable.
Sophomore Michael Byrne replaced Brown and bounced back after a shaky outing in a loss to LSU on Sunday. Byrne retired the entire FSU lineup in order before surrendering a one-out single in the ninth inning. He got two more quick outs to end the game.
“It was good to see Michael Byrne bounce back from a tough game Saturday,” said O’Sullivan. “He pitched a little bit differently, I think guys have been sitting on his slider, we used his fastball a little bit more; it’s got some good sink. I was just telling Jeff in the post game I hope some of our younger pitchers were watching this this because he’s probably 87-89, probably touches 90 but he commands the ball, it sinks. He knows who he is.”
Florida has now beaten Florida State in nine of the last 12 matchups between the two teams.