Gators down No.1 Canes in extra inning thriller

CORAL GABLES — Nine innings wasn’t enough for No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Florida, so they played 11 innings of masterful back-and-forth baseball.

Sophomore Jacob Young walked up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 11th and the go-ahead run just 90-feet away, looking for a fastball. He got it and didn’t waste the opportunity, turning on it and squeezing the ball between third base and Raymond Gil’s glove for an RBI double, giving Florida a 2-1 lead that would end up being the final score.

“Just find a fastball and hit it,” Young said of his approach in the 11th. “The at-bat before that I missed a couple (fastballs). I wanted to find the first one and put it in play hard.”

Young finished the game with three hits.

The game seemed like it wouldn’t make it to the 11th. In the 10th inning, JP Gates singled to left field. Center fielder Tony Jenkins pushed down a sacrifice bunt but when it was fielded and thrown the ball hit Jenkins in the back, allowing Miami to get runners on the corners with no outs. The home plate umpire, Tony Walsh, quickly called interference, deeming Jenkins was running outside of the basepath. That gave Miami one out with a runner on first base and the Gators closed out the frame with a popup and ground out.

Redshirt senior ace Brian Van Belle was sensational early on. Van Belle wasn’t going to throw the ball by Florida so the Gator hitters went into the game looking for fastballs and they were on it early. Jud Fabian and Kirby McMullen both hit balls that, if not for a strong wind blowing in, might have turned into home runs.

“It was a really difficult night to hit and that was apparent early on, anything hit in the air was probably going to be an out,” O’Sullivan said. “Jud’s ball in the first inning was probably a home run and Kirby’s ball to right-center was probably a home run.”

Van Belle made an adjustment and used a plus-changeup and a curveball with a mean bite to keep the Gator hitters off balance. He twirled seven innings and struck out nine in the process. The lone run he surrendered was unearned.

Cory Acton led off the fifth inning with a single and Young pushed a bunt down the first baseline, narrowly avoiding a tag to give the Gators two on and no outs. Nathan Hickey walked to load the bases. Kris Armstrong walked up to the plate and lined a ball right at the shortstop, Anthony Vilar. When Vilar tried to hurry a throw to second to double up Young the ball sailed wide, allowing Acton to score from third for the first run of the game. Van Belle responded by getting a groundball double play to end the inning.

Florida starter Tommy Mace would not be outdone. The junior admitted that the moment and the buildup started to get to him waiting around in the hotel before heading to the park.

“I got a little pumped up early on in the day and I told myself to chill out,” Mace said. “It’s just heart rate, that’s all that matters. I told the freshmen that, too. If you can control your heart rate it’ll be a lot easier.”

Mace’s heart rate must have been fine because he and Van Belle went stride for stride baffling hitters and throwing up zeros on the board. Mace’s lone run given up came in the sixth inning. Jordan Lala led off the inning with a double down the first baseline and took third base on a wild pitch, Mace got Antony Vilar swinging and the Gators intentionally walked Adrian Del Castillo, the reigning ACC player of the week, to set up the double play. Third baseman Raymond Gil did his job, lining a ball to deep center field for the sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1.

The Gators will look to win the series on Saturday night at 7:00 pm with junior Jack Leftwich on the mound.

Kevin O’Sullivan announced that the Gators will go with freshman lefty Hunter Barco on Sunday against Miami. It will be Barco’s third career appearance and first career start.

“He’s got a chance to be one of those next group of pitchers that have come through here that have been All-Americans, first-rounders, pitched in the Big Leagues. He’s that talented. He’s a freshman though. The consistency if going to be key for him this year but there’s no doubting his ability.”

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