Friday night’s season opener was weird. The Gators won but walked nine, hit two batter and played less than stellar defensively. Saturday night was a return to what Kevin O’Sullivan’s ballclubs look like.
Florida clinched the series with a 5-2 win over Long Beach State behind seven strong innings from Tommy Mace.
The sophomore started just six games last season, making his first career weekend start on Saturday afternoon. You wouldn’t have known it was his first start by the way he threw. Mace struck out four of the first eight batters he faced and a career-high seven over seven innings of work.
“I think we faced one of the best teams in the country when we scrimmage,” Mace said. “We all play each other so I think me throwing against Will (Dalton) and all of them that I’m getting better. It’s the same as throwing to any other school.”
The offense got to work in the second inning. Freshman Kendrick Calilao worked a one out walk and stole second on a swinging strikeout by Cory Acton. Brady Smith walked on four pitches before Blake Reese hit a pop fly into no mans land, finding grass between three fielders in shallow right field. That plated both Calilao and Smith with Reese sliding into second safely. Freshman Jud Fabian quickly fell behind 0-2 but shortened his approach and ripped a RBI double, the first of his career, to the left field wall, trading places with Reese. Langworthy singled to plate Fabian and give Florida a 4-0 advantage.
Fabian wasn’t done. The very next inning Mace walked the Tanner Carlson to start the frame. Carlson was sacrificed over to second bringing up Chris Jimenez. The Dirtbags’ catcher lined a ball back up the middle and Carlson got a green light.
“When he hit it my eyes lit up because I saw it coming towards me,” Fabian said. “When I saw him rounding it I threw it and oddly enough it was a perfect throw.”
Fabian’s throw was right on the money, a sharp one-hop to Brady Smith who applied the tag and electrified McKethan Stadium.
The freshman’s got a HOSE! @judfabe
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) February 16, 2019
“The high school senior saved me,” Mace said of Fabian who enrolled early, skipping his senior season of high school baseball to play at Florida this year.
Florida added its fifth run in the bottom of that inning. Nelson Maldonado walked and advanced 180 feet after an arrant pickoff attempt. Wil Dalton drove him home with a deep sacrifice fly to right center field.
Mace continued cruising with only one speed bump in the fourth inning. He hit the leadoff batter and a single gave Long Beach State runners on first and third with no outs. A sacrifice fly and a single would cut the lead to 5-2 but Mace kept his composure.
O’Sullivan turned to a pair of freshmen to finish the game. Christian Scott pitched a clean eighth and Nolan Crisp handled the ninth in 1-2-3 fashion.
Crisp, like Fabian, elected to graduate high school early and enroll at Florida. He was informed by Kevin O’Sullivan on just Monday that he would be the closer this season.
“Pretty impressive,” O’Sullivan said of Crisp’s outing. “He’s supposed to be a high school senior and to go out there, keep his emotions in check, he’s got three left-handed hitters that he’s gotta face and I thought he did really well.”
Florida will look to sweep Long Beach State on Sunday at noon. The Gators will turn to Jack Leftwich on Sunday.