CORAL GABLES — The Florida Gators clinched the series with an 8-2 win Saturday over the Miami Hurricanes on the road in a game that was much closer than the final score would indicate.
Miami handed the Gators two early runs in the first inning. Starter Greg Veliz was erratic to start the game. Nelson Maldonado singled with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch. JJ Schwarz walked and an error allowed Wil Dalton to reach first, loading the bases. A bases loaded walk gave Florida a 1-0 lead and Veliz hit Blake Reese two batter later to push another run across the board.
Florida starter Jackson Kowar didn’t have his “A” game on Saturday either. After a clean first inning Kowar gave up a one-out hit and a walk in the second before working out of the jam. He would find trouble again in the very next frame.
Kowar walked two of the first three batters he faced bringing Romy Gonzalez to the plate. Gonzalez ripped a single through the right side to plate Willy Escala. A groundout moved the Canes’ runners to second and third with Alex Toral up. Toral hit a sinking liner that Florida center fielder Nick Horvath had to get on his horse for. Horvath laid out, made the diving catch that saved two runs from scoring.
“That was an out of control play in center,” Kowar said of Horvath’s play.
The fourth inning was trouble again for Kowar. After a quick out he gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases and hit Michael Burns in the back with a fastball to tie the game. Kowar, again, was able to limit the damage and get out of the inning.
“It was kind of a grinder performance,” Kowar said. “I think my command was a little iffy there in the middle of the game but I was kind of able to limit the damage there in the third and the fourth to hold it to just one (run) in each.”
On the other side of the field Veliz had worked into a rhythm. At one point he retired 10 batters in a row before Kennan Bell was able to single with one down in the sixth. That brought Blake Reese up to the plate and with a struggling offense Kevin O’Sullivan tried to manufacture offense. He called a hit and run that worked to perfection when Reese was able to turn on a ball scoot it past Toral at first base.
“When (Veliz) gets it down in the zone it’s really hard to see,” Reese said. “I was just trying to see it as good as I could, got stuck with two strikes and tried to grind it out put the ball in play.”
Reese scored on a passed ball to extend the Gator lead to 4-2.
Kowar would come back out for his half of the sixth inning having thrown 85 pitches. With all of Florida’s pitchers on pitch counts early on in the season Kowar knew he would have to be quick to make it out.
He retired the side in order on just 11 pitches.
“I think it was really important to throw up that last zero,” he said. “You don’t want to handoff the ball to the bullpen two games in a row in the fifth. I was just trying to eat that last inning up.”
Florida turned to Jack Leftwich in the seventh and the freshman was lights out. He threw three scoreless innings, faced the minimum and struck out six on just 32 pitches.
“I think (Leftwich) and Tommy (Mace) are showing me and Brady up this year,” Kowar joked.
The Gators added two insurance runs on in the eighth and two more in the ninth to take the second game, and series, by a score of 8-2.
Florida will look for a weekend sweep on Sunday with first pitch scheduled for noon.