The No. 6 Florida Gators (32-10) improved to 29-0 all-time against the visiting Bethune Cookman Wildcats (15-30) with a 3-2 win thanks to some timely hitting late in the game.
Eric Hanhold drew the start for the Gators and gave Florida the best performance of his career. Hanhold scattered five hits through 5.1 innings of work and struck out a career-high seven batters. Hanhold was able to work out of jams in the first four innings to keep Bethune Cookman off the board before he handed the ball off to A.J. Puk in the sixth.
“That is the best Hanhold has looked all year,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m really pleased with the way he threw.”
Puk lasted just two batters, walking one, throwing a wild pitch and hitting another. Aaron Rhodes came in with just one out and the bases loaded, but was able to get an inning-ending double play.
That play vaulted the Gators into the bottom half of the sixth inning with the momentum that they had lacked to that point.
Richie Martin led of the inning with a bunt single — the first Florida hit of the game. Harrison Bader struck out and Josh Tobias flew out before Martin stole second, his team-high 15th steal (he would steal his 16th bag of the season later). Then Buddy Reed launched a high fly ball into the infield. If there were less than two outs the ball would have been ruled an infield fly, however, several wildcats misplayed it. Reed was able to scoot all the way to third base on the play that was ruled a hit.
The Wildcats tied the game in the eighth inning but Florida would not be deterred. Martin collected his second hit of the evening with a one-out double to left field. A Bader ground out moved Martin up 90-feet but with two outs the pressure was on Tobias’ shoulders.
Tobias worked the count into his favor at 2-1 and got a pitch to hit, singling up the middle to score Martin and give Florida a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Senior Bobby Poyner worked a clean ninth inning to give the Gators their 32nd win of the year.
“It was a big lift. We needed this game,” Hanhold said. “We’re playing good baseball, but we just have to come ready every day and get ready for the series.”
Florida will host Kentucky (22-16, 8-9 SEC) for a three-game series at McKethan Stadium this weekend.