Leftwich’s brilliance seals series for Gators

Jack Leftwich has had to battle this season. A blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand has caused him to miss three starts and leave two other early. A rolled left ankle, which Kevin O’Sullivan recognized publicly for the first time Friday, hindered his delivery.

Friday night he was healthy and he was good.

Really good.

“That was an unbelievable performance,” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “I think he threw 36 total changeups and about 65 percent strikes with it. That kind of slows them down. I can’t say enough about his effort.”

Leftwich threw a complete game, two hit, shutout while striking out nine Missouri Tigers in a 2-0 win. The sophomore outdueled future first round pick TJ Sikkema, who has the lowest ERA in the SEC. Sikkema threw a complete game of his own with 10 strikeouts. He made just one mistake in an otherwise masterful performance.

Sikkema retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out three in the process. In the top of the fourth inning Brady McConnell hit a sharp grounder to Missouri third baseman Mark Vierling. The usually sure-handed infielder botched the play, allowing McConnell to reach base safely. He moved to second on a passed ball. Austin Langworthy worked himself into a full count when Sikkema left a hanging breaking ball over the inside part of the plate. Langworthy put a good swing on it and lined the ball out over the right field wall. The first hit of the game produced the first, and only, runs in a pitcher’s duel.

Leftwich carried a perfect game into the fifth inning before Vierling doubled to left field. The third baseman slid head first into second and injured his hand. He would stay in the game but left in the top of the sixth inning.

Leftwich continued to truck along. The sophomore worked around the one hit in the fifth. He hit and walked the eighth and ninth batters in the Missouri lineup to start he sixth but worked out of that jam as well.

Leftwich pitched through the eighth inning, already the longest outing of his career and O’Sullivan decided it was his game to win or lose.

“When you’re going to beat other teams’ number one, especially in this league, you need to have performances like that. [Leftwich] wiggled himself out of a jam there in the seventh inning … got himself in trouble there but buckled down and got himself out of it,” O’Sullivan said.

Leftwich dispatched of the first two Tiger hitters before Peter Zimmerman launched a double into the gap. Leftwich got Connor Brumfield to strikeout swinging to end the game.

The Gators’ RPI has moved up six placed from 33 to 27. Florida’s postseason chances are still in the air but a sweep on Sunday would give the Gators a great chance of making it back into a NCAA Regional for the 12th consecutive season.

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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