For much of the season, the Florida baseball team has found itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard after close games — an obvious sign of the vast youth lining the roster.
As much as talent and experience plays into a team’s late-game success though, sometimes it helps to have luck on your side as well.
On Thursday, lady luck was indeed on the Gators’ side, as TJ Costen — the tying run for No. 8 South Carolina in the ninth inning — slipped while rounding third base.
Florida catcher Taylor Gushue —who had just fielded a relay throw— fired the ball down to third, where Costen was tagged out. The out ended the game, giving Florida a hard-earned 3-2 victory, and sending the Gators’ dugout into a celebratory frenzy.
“We’ll take one anyway we can to be honest with you,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said afterwards.
“I think it would have been a close play regardless, but obviously he slipped … it was a nice way to end it — a weird way, but kind of had a feeling going into the ninth that it wasn’t going to be a 1-2-3 inning. It never is against really good teams.”
The win puts UF one victory shy of .500 in both the team’s overall and conference records (17-18, 6-7 respectively). In addition, UF earned its third consecutive victory over a ranked team after besting No. 17 Mississippi State on Sunday, and No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday.
Although the winning streak is a major confidence boost to his team, O’Sullivan believes UF has been playing increasingly better baseball for a few weeks now.
“I don’t think it’s the last three games, I think this team’s been playing better over the last month,” O’Sullivan said. “The results haven’t always been the way we wanted them, but I think we’ve been playing better. Our pitching’s starting to come around, our bullpen’s starting to come around.”
O’Sullivan elected to throw junior pitcher Jonathon Crawford on Thursday, and though it wasn’t without its shaky moments, the move paid off, as Crawford pitched a solid 6.2 innings.
During his last full inning, Crawford worked his way out of a jam, forcing a Brison Celek fly-out before striking out George Iskenderian to end the frame. The Gamecocks (27-8, 8-5 SEC) left two runners stranded in the process, a trend that haunted them throughout the game (9 LOB).
While Crawford earned his second win of the season (2-5), the Florida bullpen had a hand the victory as well. Daniel Gibson and Ryan Harris combined for 1.1 innings, and Johnny Magliozzi came on in the ninth to shut things down.
O’Sullivan’s call to bring in Magliozzi was a curious one, as the hard-throwing sophomore is slated to start on Saturday. The move showed just how much the game meant to O’Sullivan, and he said as much afterwards.
“Every win is important,” O’Sullivan said. “I tried to probably over think it; it was a 3-2 game … Mags is going to start on Saturday. And still very well might, I told him, if his arm feels fine. He just wants the ball.”
Florida scored two of its runs in the second inning, using a South Carolina error to score the first. With Justin Shafer and Vickash Ramjit on board after a pair of singles, Josh Tobias laid down a sacrifice bunt along the third base line. An errant throw to first by Iskenderian allowed for Shafer to score, while Tobias advanced to second.
Two batters later, Ramjit crossed home plate himself after a Mike Fahrman single to right field. Ramjit would single to lead things off in the fourth, which was quickly followed by a Harrison Bader single to left.
Bader would attempt to steal soon after, resulting in a throwing error by Gamecocks catcher Grayson Greiner. Ramjit would score his second run of the game, and it would be all the Gators needed.
Gushue said the victory proved that Florida’s confidence is growing, squinting his eyes at the scoreboard for validation.
“We were able to hold that one-run lead for … five innings,” he said, drawing a laugh from reporters.
Crawford, who also threw five strikeouts, echoed his catcher’s sentiments: “We’re a really young team, but we’re starting to play really good baseball. We’ve just got to stay with it and play together as a team.”
Florida has a chance to win its second conference series of the season should it prevail on Friday. The Gators will put freshman Danny Young (1-3, 3.38 ERA) on the mound against the Gamecocks. The game will be shown live on CSS/Cox Sports beginning at 7:30.