By: Ryan Randall
The Florida Gators (39-15, 18-11 SEC) entered Friday night’s game against the Auburn Tigers (34-21, 13-16 SEC) down a game in the series, losing 4-1 the previous night. Early on, it seemed the seventh-ranked Gators might experience déjà vu at McKethan Stadium.
However, the Gators rallied back from a three-run deficit in the fourth inning to put away the Tigers 4-3. With the win, Florida will play the second day of the SEC Tournament.
Florida looked to be phased by Thursday’s loss, coming out flat in the first three innings. Sophomore pitcher A.J. Puk struggled locating his pitches, walking Damon Haecker and Blake Logan in consecutively in the second inning. Auburn loaded the bases on the following at bat with an Alex Polston bunt, then scored on a Jordan Ebert sacrifice fly and a Cody Nulph RBI. Melvin Gray continued the Tigers’ momentum with an RBI single to put the team up 3-0.
The Gators started to show some stability on defense and held Auburn scoreless in the third inning. While Puk showed some improvement, an error by Josh Tobias led Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to bring in junior Aaron Rhodes. Although Rhodes gave up a walk, Florida escaped another inning without giving up a run.
In the bottom of the fourth, the dormant Florida bats came alive. With runners on second and third, Richie Martin hit a sacrifice fly to left field, allowing Dalton Guthrie to score. On the ensuing at bat, Tobias would make up for the previous fielding error by hitting an RBI double that allowed Buddy Reed to score. Peter Alonso followed up with an RBI single to send Tobias home and tie the game up 3-3. The once-sluggish Gators seemed to have new life and momentum on their side.
Florida’s defense picked up where the offense left, getting the first three batters out in the fifth inning. The defense held off Auburn again in the sixth inning, getting another three consecutive outs. In the bottom of the inning, Reed opened Florida’s at bat with a single to second base, followed by his 17th steal of the season. Though Reed would be tagged out at third on a fielder’s choice, Tobias reached first base. After a wild pitch moved runners to second and third, Alonso lined out to right field, allowing Martin to score the deciding run. The Gators were now up 4-3 heading into the seventh inning.
While Florida’s offense didn’t put any more runs on the board, the defense stayed strong, allowing one hit in the next at bat. In the top of the eight, sophomore Kirby Snead replaced Rhodes. Snead followed up his teammate’s seventh inning by getting three consecutive batters to hit for an out in the eighth inning. As Florida headed into the ninth inning, the energy among the team was completely different from what was shown in the beginning of the game. Florida shut down Auburn’s first three batters for the second straight inning and solidified a game two victory.
What appeared to be another loss proved to be a showcase of Florida’s resiliency. Though the Gators started out slow, they finished out strong and showed those in Gainesville the type of ball Gator Nation has come to expect from the team this season.
Florida will play the final game of the series Saturday at 1 pm.