Gators win a thriller in walk-off fashion over Georgia

JJ Schwarz expected a slider but a fastball came. The baseball went right by his glove and to the backstop allowing Keegan McGovern to score and give Georgia a 6-5 lead in the ninth inning.

“So what,” Wil Dalton said emphatically after the game. “It’s over. I mean as soon as that ball hits the backstop there’s nothing you can do from stopping that running from going home. There’s nothing you can do to get that run back. It’s over. So what.”

The Gators, and Dalton did just that with a walk off 7-6 win over the Georgia Bulldogs in a Friday night thriller at McKethan Stadium.

Keenan Bell, who had an error earlier on in the night that cost the Gators four runs, started the ninth off with a single and Nick Horvath followed suit. Deacon Liput squared around to sacrifice bunt but was hit in the foot to load the bases. Nelson Maldonado tied the game with a sacrifice fly that plated Andrew Baker (pinch runner for Bell) and Horvath raced to third. The Dawgs walked India intentionally to bring Dalton to the plate. Dalton quickly worked into a 2-0 count before driving a ball deep to center field for the win.

The Bulldogs used two great defensive plays in the first inning to keep the Gators off the board. Second baseman LJ Talley made a great backhand stab to rob Deacon Liput of a single to start the game. Nelson Maldonado singled with one out and Jonathan India laced a ball off the wall in left center field for a double. Maldonado rounded third heading for home but Georgia’s relay between center fielder C.J. Smith to shortstop Cam Shepherd and finally to catcher Mason Meadows was perfect to gun Maldonado at the plate.

The Gators would open the scoring in the third inning when Keenan Bell walked to open the frame and Liput doubled to put two in scoring position for Maldonado. The designated hitter came through with a two-RBI single up the middle to give Florida its first lead of the game.

JJ Schwarz tacked on a run with a solo home run, his 11th of the season and 48th of his career, in the fourth inning.

Meanwhile Singer was in cruise control through five innings. The junior scattered just three hits through his first five innings of work with four strikeouts. He ran into trouble in the sixth inning though.

Aaron Schunk laced a single into left field and moved to third on Keegan McGovern’s double. Singer got Michael Curry swinging but loaded the bases with a walk to Adam Sasser. Singer would get Cam Shepherd to ground out to the sure glove of Keenan Bell at first but the sophomore dropped the ball on his way to first allowing Schunk to score and Shepherd to reach base. Mason Meadows fouled out by second baseman LJ Talley crushed a Singer fastball out to right field for a grand slam and a 5-3 lead.

Schwarz would knot the score back up at five when he doubled home two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game. It was the third hit of the night for the senior catcher playing in his last regular season home game of the season. He’s also 18 for his last 40 (.450) with two home runs two home runs and has eight RBI.

The win moves the Gators magic number to just one game. A win over the Bulldogs tomorrow would clinch at least a share of the regular season SEC title. The Gators can clinch the SEC regular season outright with an Arkansas loss this weekend

“There’s been a bullseye on this team all year long. I know we’re 40-11 and leading the league right now but every time you take the field you’re getting everybody’s best effort and that can be a grind in itself,” Kevin O’Sullivan said. “These players know what’s expected of them. You start hearing ‘National Championship or bust’ and I think that’s unrealistic. How many times have we seen a team that’s extremely talented and ranked No. 1 and start to put too much pressure on themselves. I think this team has handled it really well this year. They’ve been able to keep things in perspective and we’ve had some really good leadership.”

The Gators and Bulldogs will resume the series on Saturday at 1 pm.

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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