Midweek games haven’t always been kind to the top-ranked Florida Gators, and it seemed as though Tuesday’s matchup with the USF Bulls would not go against that trend.
It took some big swings and maybe a couple of fortunate plays mixed in for the Gators to overcome adversity and come away with an 11-8 win over the Bulls at home.
Former weekend starter Tyler Dyson got the start on the mound despite his recent struggles. He has seemingly lost all confidence, and the struggles did not end on Tuesday.
He gave up a leadoff single, followed by a pair of walks, a two RBI double and another walk while only getting one out in the top of the first inning before head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was forced to pull him from the game.
The early exit could not have helped his state of mind, but O’Sullivan said he is doing all he can to bring him out of it. Dyson was a meaningful part of last season’s national championship run and the Gators would like for him to be a viable option this postseason, so they will continue to run him out there and let him take his lumps until things get better.
“I’ve got confidence in him,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s why I pitched him this weekend against A&M and that’s why I started him tonight. He’s just going through a tough stretch … These things happen sometimes when guys lose their confidence. He’s just gonna have to get his confidence back.”
Meanwhile, Tommy Mace came into the game with his team down 2-0 and bases loaded.
He walked the very first batter he faced, plating another run for the Bulls. A sacrifice fly made it 4-0 before Mace and the Gators finally got out of the bloodbath that was the first inning with a strikeout.
Deacon Liput reached on an infield hit to start off the bottom of the inning, but no one could get anything going behind him.
The pitching issues continued in the second inning as the Bulls started eating Mace up. The first batter of the inning flew out deep to center field, but the next two hit hard line drives that dropped in left field.
A wild pitch put runners on second and third with two outs and USF’s Chris Chatfield drove them in with a base hit to make it 6-0.
Again, the Gators started the bottom of the inning on the right foot with a double from JJ Schwarz that just snuck into the left field line. He advanced to third on a groundout, but didn’t make it any further.
Andrew Baker came in to pitch the third and came out unscathed.
The offense finally started to wake up after Nick Horvath and Liput drew back-to-back walks. Nelson Maldonado came up behind them with a rocket off the top of the wall in right center. He somehow only made it to first base, but Horvath scored Florida’s first run of the game and Liput went to third.
Wil Dalton hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Liput, and the Bulls’ pitching started getting shaky. Maldonado didn’t have to do much work on the base paths, as he made it all the way around on three wild pitches throughout the remainder of the inning, and Florida cut the defecit in half 6-3.
Blake Reese tried to keep that momentum going, taking the very first pitch of the bottom of the fourth into the left field bleachers. That would be the only offense the Gators could muster in the inning, but they were coming back slowly but surely.
Baker got just one out in the top of the fifth before he was pulled for Kirby McMullen. He came off to a nice ovation after pitching a couple solid innings.
McMullen got a fly ball to right field for the second out, but then gave up three singles in a row and two more USF runs scored, making it 8-4.
The Gators stranded runners on second and third in the bottom of the inning.
McMullen gave up a leadoff single in the sixth, and four hits in 0.2 innings would be all he’d have to show for the night.
From there, Jordan Butler took the mound and made quick work of the Bulls.
Keenan Bell had been hitting the ball on the nose all night, but he finally got a double to drop and roll into the right field corner to start the bottom of the sixth. Horvath lined a single to center field to put runners on the corners with no outs for the top of the order.
He worked a 3-2 count, then smacked one off the light pole just outside the right field fence. The ball got out in a hurry and could not have been more than 15 or 20 feet in the air at any point.
Aside from the pure beauty of the hit, it brought the Gators within one run.
Florida trailed 8-7 going into the seventh, but it didn’t feel like it would be that way for long.
Butler continued to work his magic, getting two more quick outs, but then his command started to get away from him. He gave up back-to-back hits and hit a batter to load the bases.
With momentum finally sitting in Florida’s corner, cleanup hitter Joe Genord nearly took it away. Not with a deep ball but with a high hopping ground ball that just got over Butler’s head. Liput charged in to make a nice play on the run and Bell did a split at first base to just barely beat the runner and get the Gators out of the jam.
Reese reached on a strikeout to lead off the bottom of the inning as the ball went in the dirt and got away from the catcher. Brady Smith took advantage of his pinch-hitting opportunity, singling up the middle. Horvath came up big with a base hit to left center, scoring Reese and tying the game at 8 all.
And once again, Liput came up to the plate with a chance to put his team on top.
After blasting a home run in the previous at bat, he proceeded to lay down a perfectly placed bunt, and the Bulls’ pitcher had no shot at him at first base. He made the throw anyways and it sailed into right field, putting two more Florida runs on the board.
“I knew I was gonna get the bunt sign, especially since that’s a part of my game,” Liput said. “I take pride in being able to bunt. And in that situation when you need runs and you get runners on first and second with nobody out, that’s what it calls for.”
Florida couldn’t score any more in the inning, but wouldn’t need to.
Closer Michael Byrne came in to shut USF down, and did just that in the eighth. He didn’t have to do much at all, throwing just 11 pitches in the inning.
Smith tacked on another run for Florida with a two out double that one hopped the left center field wall and scored Austin Langworthy to make it 11-8.
That would be the final score as the Gators completed a huge comeback against a talented USF team.
“I think it shows a lot about our team and the fight we have and the confidence we have,” Liput said. “You know, it’s just the love that we have for each other and everybody wants to have each other’s backs. If it’s not someone’s day, everybody wants to be able to pick him up.”
It might have been a night to forget for the Florida pitching staff, but Butler came out with the win and Byrne got his 12th save of the season.
Liput reached in all of his plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a couple walks and three RBIs. Schwarz went 2-for-4 with a walk, Horvath was 2-for-3 with two walks and an RBI and Smith finished 2-for-2.
The Gators will close out their home schedule in a huge series against the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend.