Center fielder Jud Fabian is one of the greatest power hitters in Gators history. He entered Tuesday night’s matchup against South Florida with 48 career home runs, the fifth-most by a player in a UF uniform. He’s led the SEC in homers for much of this season.
Still, there were a couple of milestones he had yet to reach. He had never hit three homers in a game, and he had never hit a grand slam.
So, fittingly, he did both on the same night. Fabian homered in his first three official at bats, including that elusive grand slam in the second inning. He finished with a career-high eight RBI and a career-high 13 total bases. Oh, and he vaulted past JJ Schwarz for sole possession of fourth place on the all-time home run list with 51 dingers now.
Fabian added a diving catch in the left-center gap in the sixth inning for good measure.
As could be expected given Fabian’s gaudy stat line, the Gators won the game easily, defeating the Bulls 18-3 at Condron Ballpark.
“This game meant a little more to the guys who were here last year because of what they did to us last year [in the regional] and celebrating on our field,” Fabian said. “So, I think this game meant a little more to us due to the fact of that, and I think it was just kind of all harnessed within ourselves, and we let it out.”
Fabian wasn’t the only Gator to put on a lazar show on Tuesday night. BT Riopelle, Mac Guscette and Ty Evans also blasted long balls, and the Gators (26-18, 8-13 SEC) tied their season-high with six round-trippers.
Wyatt Langford (3-for-4, two RBI), Sterlin Thompson (2-for-3, four RBI), Riopelle (2-for-4) and Fabian (obviously) all turned in multi-hit games.
UF’s pitching wasn’t bad either, as they only gave up six hits and two earned runs despite throwing two freshmen out there. Nick Pogue made the start and gave up one earned run while striking out four batters in four innings. Tyler Nesbitt gave up a hit in two innings but faced the minimum by inducing a double play.
Karl Hartman struck out two Bulls in his inning, and Anthony Ursitti finished the game by giving up a run in his two innings.
“I thought Pogue’s start was about as good as he’s thrown the ball all year long,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought he got on top of the ball good, and he had good shape to his breaking balls. He threw some really good changeups down in the strike zone.
“Overall, it was just a really good night. It was a good night on the mound. We got some young pitchers out there, and, obviously, offensively, we were really good.”
South Florida (23-21, 4-11 American Athletic) actually opened the scoring in the top of the first. Two singles and a sacrifice bunt put a pair of runners in scoring position, and Sonny Rao drove in a run with a groundout to first.
The Gators’ deficit didn’t last long. They scored multiple runs in each of the first four innings to turn this one into a rout.
Langford lined Orion Kerkering’s first pitch up the middle for a leadoff single. Two batters later, Kerkering threw an 0-1 fastball to Fabian that stayed over the heart of the plate. Fabian sent it onto the left-field berm to give the Gators a 2-1 lead.
With one out in the second, Guscette lined a pitch just over the left fielder’s glove and over the wall for his third homer of the year.
A walk and a couple of singles loaded the bases for Fabian. Prior to the at bat, Bulls pitching coach Karsten Whitson, a former Gators player, went out to the mound for a chat with Kerkering.
The plan was clearly to avoid throwing Fabian a fastball and try to strike him out on breaking balls.
That strategy nearly worked, as Kerkering jumped ahead of him 0-2, including a swing and a miss for the second strike. However, Fabian battled him, fouling off a pitch and then taking a breaking ball outside for ball one. Kerkering’s 1-2 breaking ball hung over the plate, and Fabian crushed it out of the stadium to expand the lead to 7-0 and end Kerkering’s night.
Riopelle welcomed Tanner Mink to the mound by hitting a ball onto the berm in right to make it a six-run inning.
South Florida got one of those runs back in the following half inning when Nelson Rivera lofted a sacrifice fly to right, but the Gators kept pouring it on in the bottom of the third.
A walk and an infield single by Kris Armstrong put two runners on with one out. Langford lined the second pitch that he saw from Mink into right center for an RBI double. Thompson made it 10-2 by hitting a sacrifice fly to right off of Joseph Sanchez.
Florida strung together another six-run inning in the fourth. A walk, a hit batter and a single by Colby Halter loaded the bases with nobody out and led to Jack Cebert entering out of the bullpen. Guscette plated a run by reaching on a fielder’s choice.
Two batters later, Langford walked to reload the bases with two outs. Thompson hit a blooper that fell in no man’s land in right-center field. All three runs scored to make it a rare bases-clearing single.
Fabian took the first pitch that he saw and hit it a mile into the air. It tucked just inside the left-field foul pole for his momentous home run that made it 16-2.
The scoring slowed down considerably for the rest of the game as both teams emptied their benches. Armstrong led off the sixth with a triple off of Dylan Vega and scored on Langford’s sacrifice fly.
Nick Gonzalez drove in the Bulls’ final run with an RBI fielder’s choice in the eighth, and Evans answered with his second career homer in the bottom of the frame.
“I think games like this are really good for the locker room because those guys work just as hard as everybody else does,” O’Sullivan said. “To get someone like Kris [Armstrong] in there and give Deric [Fabian] a day to get his legs underneath him and to get a couple of these other guys in there, it’s good for the locker room. It’s good for team morale.”
This night was all about Fabian, though. He’s had a remarkable career filled with unforgettable moments, but what he did on Tuesday night trumped all of them.
The Gators will now turn their attention to their weekend series at Mississippi State. There are nine conference games left in the regular season. To make the NCAA Tournament, you typically need 13 SEC wins in the regular season as well as a strong resume. UF has the resume to make the postseason, as they entered Tuesday ranked 19th in RPI.
Now they need to win at least five of their final nine league games to get to that 13-win mark.
“They’re all big,” O’Sullivan said. “I think I’ve said this enough. We’ve put ourselves in a position where we have to win some games. We’ve got to do it one game at a time. We can’t look ahead, and we can’t get too excited after a win. We can’t get too down after a loss. The bottom line is we’ve got to play. It’s not going to be easy. We have two road series in a row. It’s never easy to play on the road in this league, let alone on the road, period.
“Winning a game like this tonight, yeah, they should feel good about themselves.”