Wil Dalton would be the first to tell you that he was struggling. The sophomore outfielder had a stretch where he had just 12 hits in 69 at bats (.174) and he was starting to press. When JJ Schwarz went down with a broken hand that put more pressure on Dalton and that didn’t help. Dalton went 1-16 in Hoover (.063).
Jordan Butler was having a rough go of it himself the last month of the season. The freshman had given up 10 earned runs in his last four outings, only totaling three innings.
“At times I think in the SEC Tournament we put a little too much pressure on ourselves,” Dalton said. “We just need to sit back and do what we do best. That’s just playing baseball.”
Boy, did the pair play some baseball on Friday afternoon.
Butler inherited a 3-1 deficit, two runners on and no outs. The lefty navigated out of that mess, getting three lazy pop ups to keep the Columbia lead from expanding.
“I guess your first inning goes long way into your whole outing,” he said. “Just getting in there throwing strikes and being confident goes a long way.”
He then went on to retired the first six batters he faced, before giving up one run on two hits while striking out five over five innings of work. It was the first time the freshman has been in the NCAA Tournament but he wasn’t shy of the spotlight.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and give my defense a chance to make plays. I’m kind of used to that situation. I’ve been through it in the past. I just wanted to throw strikes and get my team in the dugout.”
Dalton got off to a fast start. His first inning double scored Nelson Maldonado. His second at bat plated another run and he was just getting started. Dalton’s third at bat was a double in the fourth inning that scored two more. He was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple, which would have given him the cycle because he launched a two-run home run in the eighth inning to cap off a six RBI.
When JJ Schwarz took a foul ball to the hand Dalton and India knew they needed to step up. Kevin O’Sullivan even challenged them to do so.
“I did challenge both of them a little bit,” O’Sullivan said after beating Columbia. “We don’t have JJ. You’re going to win in this time of year with your dudes. Wil’s got to pick up his game a little bit and so does Jonathan.”
Dalton took that to heart and maybe even more than he needed to in Hoover during the SEC tournament. He spent the last week trying to get back to the approach that made him a threat in the middle of the lineup.
“A lot of it was mental. I can sit there and pick at little things but its’ just about sticking with an approach and being mature about it,” he said. “That’s why I tried to work on all week, getting back to being who I am and knowing who I am, really. Just having fun with it.”
Going 4-5 with six RBI is certainly fun.
The biggest development is that Florida is that two guys they’ve leaned on this year, who had faltered down the stretch, don’t seem to mind playing with everything on the line. Butler entered a hopeless situation that could have easily gone sideways. Instead he righted the ship and earned his sixth win. He couldn’t have done it without Wil Dalton producing more runs on his own than the entire Columbia offense.
Like Kevin O’Sullivan said, if Florida is going to get back to Omaha they need their guys to be dudes and they had two dudes back on a hot streak Friday afternoon.