Bucs beat Gators in series finale

Sunday games in college baseball are supposed to be slugfests. They are the games with double-digit runs and hits. But for Charleston Southern starting pitcher Tyler Thornburg, this Sunday was different.

The junior right-hander threw a complete game, allowing seven hits and three runs while striking out 11 Florida batters. The 158-pitch performance was enough to give the Buccaneers a 6-3 victory over Florida in the series finale at McKethan Stadium.

“It was a gutsy performance,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He didn’t fold the tent. That’s about as gutsy of a performance as I’ve seen in a long time.”

Thornburg was at 85 pitches through five innings, and that pitch count is usually around the time a team’s bullpen begins to work and think about coming into a game.

Florida’s best scoring opportunity to take the lead in the second half of the game came in the ninth inning. Bryson Smith led off with a single to left field and scored when Kamm Washington lined a double into the left-center field gap. The Gators looked as if they were ready to make a late inning run when Mike Zunino worked a full count before flying out to the warning track in center field.

That’s when Thornburg turned it into another gear. He struck out Matt den Dekker for the third time on the day, ending his career-high 22-game hitting streak. Thornburg then struck out Nolan Fontana on a high 3-2 fastball to end the game.

“He mixed fastball, changeup and curve ball,” den Dekker said. “He threw strikes and pitched well.

The mindset of the Florida hitters against a quality pitcher has always been to work deep counts and make the pitcher have a high pitch count. But during this game, it didn’t work. The higher Thornburg’s pitch count got, the more effective his pitching was.

His curve ball is what kept the Florida hitters off-balance most of the day and served as a go-to pitch. The sharp biting movement down was too difficult for the Florida hitters to read out of his hand. Combining that with his above average fastball, and it was a recipe for trouble.

Of the 158 pitches Thornburg threw, 101 were for strikes.

“We try to wear pitchers down and run pitch counts up, but he continued to battle and pushed the game on,” den Dekker said.

After struggling last week with situational hitting, it reared its head again on Sunday. Down 5-0 in the fourth inning, the Gators had an opportunity to fight back in the game. After Preston Tucker singled, a pitch hit Austin Maddox and Josh Adams singled to load the bases with no outs. Tyler Thompson hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Tucker and moving Maddox to third.

Back-to-back strikeouts by Smith and Washington ended the inning and the Gators wasted a chance to make the game closer.

“It hurt a ton,” Tucker said. “You don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get over an entire game. Unfortunately that was one of the few opportunities we got, and we didn’t cash in. It cost us in the end.”

The scariest moment of the game came not in the final score, but in a fourth inning incident. Buccaneers first baseman Derek Smith lined a ball back at Florida starting pitcher Tommy Toledo, who was struck with the ball. It wasn’t clear whether the ball hit Toledo’s glove or his head, but O’Sullivan confirmed after the game that it did strike Toledo. He lay motionless on the mound for a few minutes before regaining consciousness and being helped off the field.

The only update is that Toledo was taken to the hospital after the injury occurred.

“I haven’t been able to talk to our doctors yet,” O’Sullivan said. “All I know is that he got hit, he’s in the hospital and we’ll certainly check on him as soon as we get out of here. I haven’t been able to talk to him. He had his head down and there was blood. That’s as far as I know.”

Nick Maronde came in relief but wasn’t effective. He worked 1.1 innings, allowing only one hit but walked four batters on the way to allowing two runs. In the nine batters he faced, Maronde didn’t throw a single first-pitch strike and only threw 21 of his 46 pitches for strikes.

Freshman left-hander Paco Rodriguez came into the game and gave the offense a chance to come back. He settled the game down with four shutout innings, allowing only four hits and no walks, while striking out two. His cutter got in on the hands of the Charleston Southern hitters, and they were rarely able to make solid contact.

“He just did what we tell them to do,” O’Sullivan said. “Throw the ball over the plate and trust your defense.”

With the series victory already in hand, the Florida head coach didn’t believe this was a case of a Sunday game sneaking up on his team by overlooking the opponent. They knew what they were facing in Thornburg, and he simply shut the Florida offense down.

“I warned them yesterday after the game and again this morning,” O’Sullivan said. “We, as a team and a staff, knew Thornburg was good and a prospect. (The team) came in knowing what to expect.”

The Gators look to rebound Monday night when they host Army. Sophomore right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (1-1, 4.66) is scheduled to get the start for the Gators. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.