Tuesday night’s game at Jacksonville was a rough one for the Gators’ pitching staff, to say the least.
Seven UF pitchers combined to walk seven Dolphins and plunk four more. They gave up more runs (seven) than they did hits (five). They gave up two runs in an inning that they didn’t give up a hit. Only three of the seven pitchers recorded more than three outs.
All of that is usually a recipe for losing.
Instead, Florida’s offense was just good enough to overcome the poor pitching and sneak out of John Sessions Stadium with an 8-7 win.
The No. 15 Gators (26-11, 9-6 SEC) racked up 13 hits, their fourth consecutive game reaching double figures. Nathan Hickey, Jud Fabian, Sterlin Thompson, Colby Halter and Cory Acton all turned in multi-hit games, while Josh Rivera walked twice. Thompson, Halter and Acton each notched multiple RBI.
“I thought offensively we were really good, and I think we only made the one miscue at third base, but I thought offensively and defensively we were really good,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought they battled.”
Jacksonville (7-23, 0-9 Atlantic Sun) wasted no time jumping on UF starter Timmy Manning. The freshman had trouble locating his fastball, which led to some hard contact. Ruben Someillan and Dakota Julylia singled. Manning drilled Jacob Grabsky with a pitch to load the bases with one out. On the very next pitch, Duncan Hunter cleared the bases with a double to left field. Manning struck out the next two batters to minimize the damage.
UF struck back within minutes. Fabian opened the second inning with a single to left. Thompson drilled the first pitch he saw from Mike Cassala over the wall in right center field to cut the lead to 3-2.
Manning found a bit of a groove in the second inning, striking out two batters in a 1-2-3 frame.
A pair of walks and a single by Thompson loaded the bases with two outs in the third for the Gators. Halter came through with a single to left field to give the Gators a 4-3 lead and chase Cassala from the game. Acton greeted Tyler Naumann to the game by singling up the middle to score another run.
It appeared that Manning would cruise through another inning when he retired the first two Dolphins in the bottom of the inning. However, in what’s become a recurring issue for him, he couldn’t finish the inning. He walked Grabsky and Hunter, which prompted O’Sullivan to bring in Ben Specht from the bullpen. Manning was charged with three earned runs on three hits in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.
“I think what you see is typical of really talented freshmen,” O’Sullivan said. “He shows flashes of really putting together some really quality pitches, and then there’s other times where, like young pitchers do at times, they have like a four-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on and find themselves in a little bit of trouble. But he certainly shows flashes of really putting this whole thing together.”
Specht escaped the jam he inherited by getting Trace Burchard to groundout to Rivera at short.
The bottom of the fourth inning followed a similar script. Specht got the first two batters out with no trouble and then just completely lost it. He hit Kyle Richardson and walked Someillan. Brandon Sproat replaced him and got ahead of Jesus Pacheco. His 0-2 fastball caught way too much of the plate, and Pacheco doubled into the right field corner to tie the game at five.
Once again, Florida’s bats responded. Halter, Acton and Hickey all went the opposite way and lined doubles into the left center field gap to score two runs. Sam Brunnig hit McMullen with a pitch to load the bases with one out. However, he struck out Fabian and got Thompson to ground into a fielder’s choice to keep his team within striking distance.
As it turned out, his team didn’t even need to strike back. All they had to do was stand there and look pretty.
Sproat plunked Grabsky and walked Hunter to start the bottom of the fifth. David Luethje entered out of the bullpen and got an out on a sacrifice bunt but walked the next two batters to bring in a run. Trey Van Der Weide entered and got an out at the plate on a bunt but hit Someillan with a pitch to tie the game at seven.
“At the end of the day, I think we had three guys in the middle of the game record five outs, and one of the outs was a sac bunt,” O’Sullivan said. “We just need to get some production and help from those guys, especially in midweek games. They’re certainly talented enough to pitch on the weekend, but we’re not asking them to pitch too much. We’re asking them to pitch, basically, for the most part, one pitch to one side of the plate and just give us three outs here or four outs there. But, unfortunately tonight, we weren’t able to do that.”
Things settled down a bit over the back half of the game. The decisive run came in the top of the seventh. Jacob Young walked with one out and advanced to third on Hickey’s single. McMullen brought him in with a groundout to Julylia at short.
Van Der Weide picked up the win by pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings with just one hit and three strikeouts.
Ryan Cabarcas took over to start the eighth and set down the first five Dolphins he faced. However, he walked Burchard with two outs in the ninth and fell behind Elias Flowers 1-0. O’Sullivan then handed the ball to Jordan Carrion. Carrion got Flowers to ground out to Acton at second on his first pitch to record his first career save.
It was far from being the cleanest-pitched game or the most pleasurable to follow due to all of the mid-inning pitching changes, but a win is a win. In a midweek game against a desperate in-state foe, that’s all you can ask for.