Gators off to best start under Kevin O’Sullivan

The outfield wall is adorned with accomplishments the Gators have achieved since Kevin O’Sullivan took over. There are SEC Championships, College World Series appearances and a National Championship but Friday night the Gators did something they’ve never done under O’Sullivan — start a season 9-0.

Florida trailed for more than six innings on Friday night but put up three runs in the eighth inning to beat Troy 3-2.

Coming off of a weekend sweep down in Miami the Gators’ two midweeks games were rained out and the team didn’t look sharp early on.

“To be honest with you we didn’t come ready to play. In the top of the first, we’re taking ground balls from the first baseman and one of our infielder’s short hops our first baseman, the ball kicks off his glove. A couple of plays later we kick a ball, I’ve only ever seen that one other time in my career where an infielder has kicked a ball rolled (to him) from the first baseman.”

Tommy Mace was touched early on. The Trojans came into the weekend with one of the best offenses in the country and they were not intimated by Florida.

Drew Frederic ripped a single into left field on Mace’s first offering to the shortstop. He moved to second on fielder’s choice and third on Easton Kirk’s single. Caleb Bartolero put the Trojans on the board with a single back up the middle. All three of Troy’s hits came within the first three pitches of their at-bats. They were aggressive, knowing Mace and the Gators’ tendency to try and get ahead in counts.

“They were swinging at everything, I had to use my defense a lot,” Mace said. “It was a tough game. They were on pretty much every pitch. I’m mixing up in and out but they were still just aggressive throughout the zone.”

Troy put another run on the board in the third inning. Rigsby Mosely led the frame off with a single followed by Frederic’s second hit of the game. The pair were moved over by a sacrifice bunt. Mosely scored on a groundout before Mace could retire the side.

Troy starter Levi Thomas was a bulldog on the mound Friday. The junior came into the game without having surrendered a run in 11 innings while striking out 25. He scattered four hits through the first three innings but watched his pitch count rise getting behind batters. Thomas would allow just five hits over six scoreless innings before being lifted with 108 pitches. That’s when things changed for the Gators.

“If he goes seven or eight it’s a different ball game,” O’Sullivan said of Troy starter
Levi Thomas. “If their starter has a lower pitch count and goes seven, who knows.”

Troy went to its closer, Lance Johnson in the seventh. Josh Rivera got things moving with a one-out single before Nathan Hickey worked a walk. After a fly out it was senior Austin Langworthy — who was 3-4 on the night — that came through with a single to center field that plated Rivera and moved Hickey to third. Langworthy advanced to second on an error that would prove costly when Kirby McMullen followed Langworthy’ single with a two-RBI knock of his own to give Florida a 3-0 lead.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” McMullen said. “He located and he was dotting that outside corner to righties and he was in and out to lefties the entire game and he had that good breaking ball. We were trying to make adjustments but he pitched a really good game against us. Props to him.”

Mace was lifted after Florida took the lead in the seventh. Sophomores Nick Pogue and Ben Specht pitched the eighth and ninth innings respectively, each striking out the side with Specht earning his second save of the season.

Despite winning the game, O’Sullivan was not happy with the way his team showed up to the ballpark on Friday and he made that clear after the game.

“If we think we’re just going to roll the balls out there and throw the gloves out there and beat anybody because we’re the Gators, I mean, that’s nonsense. We had a good weekend down in Miami. That has nothing to do with tonight or this weekend. It has nothing to do when we start conference play against Georgia,” he said. “We’ve gotta be mature with where we’re at because we’re not a finished product. Offensively we’re not where we were at the start of the season. Pitching-wise we’ve still got a lot of question marks. Defensively we have some lapses mentally. That falls on me. I’ve gotta get these guys to play night in and night out.”

The Gators will turn to Jack Leftwich 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