Gators late rally falls short in SEC opener

The Florida Gators charged back in the ninth inning but fell 6-5 in the 2019 SEC opener — a fantastic overall baseball game by both teams.

This is the kind of game you expect on Friday nights in the SEC. Florida went with sophomore Tommy Mace who brought in a 4-0 record against Ethan Small, who brought in 40 strikeouts in 24 innings.

It was what you’d expect. Mace sat down the Diamond Dawgs on just five pitches in the first inning. Small responded with a perfect frame of his own. Mace would retire the first six batters he faced and carried a no hitter into the fifth inning.

Florida got on the board first when Small fell behind 3-1 to Wil Dalton. Ahead in the count Dalton sat dead red fastball and Small missed his spot for the first time. If groove a fastball down Broadway to Dalton he’s going to hit it. Dalton’s second home run of the season gave Florida a 1-0 lead.

That lead wouldn’t last long. Mace threw a goo cutter down in the zone but Justin Foscue went down and got it. The sophomore third baseman lined it over the wall in right field with a 101 exit velocity to tie the score.

Mace settled down but so did Small. Mississippi State’s ace rebounded from his one mistake and baffled the Gator bats. Small isn’t overpowering; he barely topped 91 on the radar gun, but he’s a pitcher.

“We couldn’t make an adjustment,” Nelson Maldonado said. “He commanded his spots, he placed his pitches really well. He did his job.”

Mace dueled with Small back and forth. The two hurlers never got much time on the bench as their counterpart erased hitters with ease. Back and forth they went trading strikeouts and routine outs, waiting for the other to make a mistake.

Mace would.

Mangum opened the sixth frame with a double. Mace got an out but a hot grounder back up the middle bounced off his glove and through for a single, Mangum racing to third. Mace struck out MacNamee on a nasty cutter but spiked a slider into the ground to the next batter allowing Mangum to score.

“If I field my position no one scores,” Mace said taking responsibility. “That kind of irritates me.”

Mace has nothing to be ashamed of. He threw 6.1 innings, gave up three hits and three runs, striking out five.

“I thought that was the best Tommy’s looked all year,” O’Sullivan said. “Other than the leadoff walk the one inning and the hit by pitch I thought he was really sharp. I thought Tommy gave a great effort.”

The Bulldogs kept chipping away at the Gator bullpen after Mace left the game. They added a run in the seventh and eighth and two in the ninth. The Gators launched a comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring three but it was too little too late.

Florida will look to even the series with Jack Leftwich on the mound tomorrow night. He’ll face off against freshman JT Ginn. The righty was the 30th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft but chose to attend Mississippi State rather than begin his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The game is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. There is a potential that the two teams will play a Saturday double header with heavy rains in the forecast. Stay tuned to Gator Country for updates.

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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