Gators blast past USF, 9-1

Nathan Hickey recalls his legs shaking when he first stepped into the batter’s box at McKethan Stadium. Hitting a baseball is hard enough; it’s nearly impossible on shaky legs.

Three weeks into the season and it’s opposing pitchers who are shaking when the freshman catcher walks towards the plate now.

Hickey blasted a home run to center field, a part of McKethan stadium where only Pete Alonso dared to hit baseballs, for his second home run in as many games on his way to a 3-3 night with two RBI.

“You don’t see many home runs when the ball is hit to center field where the center fielder doesn’t move,” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “You don’t see it to that part of the ballpark.”

Hickey is four for his last six with two home runs and three RBI. He earned his first Friday night start and it’s a sign of things to come.

“We made a switch tonight with Nathan catching Tommy before we started conference play because we’re going to need his bat in the lineup consistently over the course of the weekend when we start SEC play,” O’Sullivan said.

Hickey’s power is impressive, perhaps fueled by his diet and his love for a local burger joint — Relish.

“I will be there Tuesday. Every Tuesday I go there,” Hickey said of Relish. “They have a cheeseburger, fries and a drink for $7. It’s a single, double costs like $2 extra but I always get the double. I have to have the double. It’s worth the $2. Relish is probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life.”

His coach doesn’t care what his catcher is eating, as long as he’s hitting baseballs.

They’ve been comeback kids all season long but Friday the No. 1 Florida Gators didn’t leave any doubt in a 9-1 win over USF.

Florida exploded for six runs in the bottom of the first inning, all but sealing the game within the first 20 minutes of the game.

Jud Fabian and Austin Langworthy both walked to start the game and moved up 90- feet on Kirby McMullen’s long fly ball out. Jacob Young brought the pair home with a single, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, the third-longest hitting streak under Kevin O’Sullivan. Cory Acton walked before Kendrick Calilao blasted a home run to left field. Hickey made it back-to-back swings shortly after. In total Florida sent nine batters to the plate in the first inning, scoring six runs on three hits and enjoyed a comfortable lead.

That was the problem, however, in Kevin Sullivan’s eyes.

“We jump out six runs in the first and there’s a bunch of zeros put up on the board after that. We lost our focus. I want them to be loose but not too loose,” he said. “We had some bad at-bats against some pitching that we should probably have better at-bats against, let’s be honest. We’re going to end up losing a game along the way because we’re not focused.”

On the other side, Tommy Mace was busy throwing up zeroes of his own. Florida’s junior ace has put together three quality starts in a row. Friday would be his last tune-up game before conference play starts.

“I feel good,” Mace said. “I think I’ve learned different things and have worked on some things, felt things on the mound and worked on things in the bullpen. I’m excited for conference play for all of us.”

Mace lasted seven scoreless innings and struck out six on the way to his third win of the season. Brandon Sproat, who gave up one hit, a solo home run in the ninth inning, replaced him and finished the game off.

Florida will look to move to 15-0 and take another weekend series on Saturday at 4:00 pm.

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC