Gators’ offense explodes to take series from Samford

It seems like ancient history at this point, but Saturday’s game two between Samford and No. 7 Florida was competitive at one point.

After scoring three runs in the first inning, the Gators failed to record in a hit in the next three innings. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs slowly chipped away at the lead with solo home runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

“Credit their starter, [Jesse McCord],” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He did a really nice job. He had a better fastball than I thought. He was 93, 94 [miles per hour] in the first couple of innings, and then he kind of settled in and kind of pitched backwards. He had a really good change he was using right on right. He broke out a little cutter. Aggressive, older kid. I think he’s a sixth-year college player, so he’s got a lot of innings under his belt.”

When the Gators came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, their lead was only 4-2. Given the offensive struggles and the pitching staff’s propensity to give up late runs in bunches, you could feel a sense of uneasiness building among the Gator faithful while the Samford dugout gained confidence and energy with each passing inning.

Then the sixth and seventh innings happened. With two outs and a runner on second in the sixth, Jordan Carrion singled to right field for an RBI and advanced all the way to third base when the throw to the plate got away. Jacob Young then walked. After Young stole second base, the Bulldogs opted to intentionally walk a scorching hot Jud Fabian to load the bases and create a force out at every base. The next batter, Nathan Hickey, took that personally.

“I wasn’t very happy about that,” Hickey said. “In the baseball world, if you walk someone, you try to go to the next hitter and try to get them out. So, for me, personally, it felt like they were gunning for me.”

That decision backfired on Samford quickly. Hickey smacked an 0-1 fastball over the fence in left center field for a grand slam to extend the lead to 9-2. The floodgates opened shortly thereafter, and the Gators (5-2) defeated the Bulldogs (3-3) 18-2.

“The whole day before, they were kind of pitching me backward,” Hickey said. “So, first AB, I got slider, changeup, changeup. Next AB, I got two fastballs. So, they were kind of pitching backward [from] what you would normally look for. In that AB, I got a 12-6 curveball for a strike, and right after that, I was like, ‘If he throws me a fastball, he’s probably going to try and tunnel it.’ So, he threw me a fastball, and I hit it on the barrel.”

The Gators added eight more runs on just four hits in the seventh. Carrion, Young, Kris Armstrong and Sterlin Thompson hit RBI singles. Fabian and Josh Rivera brought in runs with bases loaded walks. Hickey was hit by a pitch for his career-best sixth RBI, and Mac Guscette drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

UF tacked on its final run in the eighth inning on an Armstrong RBI single.

On the mound, Jack Leftwich struggled with his control in the second inning but otherwise turned in a solid outing. He gave up just two hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings while striking out six batters. Of course, it’s easier to pitch when you’ve got an offense that can go off at any moment supporting you.

“That’s always awesome for a pitcher,” Leftwich said. “They did that last year. Honestly, every year I’ve been here, we’ve hit really well, and so, that’s obviously great for a pitcher. It just gives you more comfort and confidence when you know you’re out there just to know to attack and let them hit the ball and stuff like that.”

O’Sullivan was pleased with the depth his team displayed on Saturday. Eight different players had a hit, and nine players had an RBI. Hickey, Young, Armstrong and Carrion all turned in multiple-hit games.

“I thought we played really well,” O’Sullivan said. “We started four freshmen in the six, seven, eight and nine hole, and they all did really well. Three of the four got hits tonight, and Colby Halter got a couple walks, and their at bats have been good. So, I’m really pleased with how those guys have kind of settled in and how they’ve played. Kris Armstrong comes off the bench and gets a couple hits. We got a lot of contributions from a lot of different people tonight.”

And a whole lot of runs.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.