LUBBOCK, TEXAS — Kevin O’Sullivan didn’t have an answer as to what happened to his team Friday night. He had one on Saturday — Jack Leftwich.
Before the game began the sophomore knew he needed to eat up innings. The Gators’ bullpen was tasked with getting 23 outs on Friday and if the Gators want to advance through this regional they’ll need to save arms.
That was Leftwich’s mission today.
“I was just trying to go deep in the game and attack, get early contact,” Leftwich said. “I didn’t think anything of the elimination game. I threw in three of them last year and Missouri was kind of like an elimination game, too. It’s the same mindset of attacking every hitter.”
Leftwich threw seven complete innings and carried a perfect game into the sixth inning. He mixed his pitches, got ahead in the count and baffled Army bats the entire afternoon.
Leftwich struggled early on in the season with a blister on his right middle finger and a sprained ankle. Leftwich has been sensational of late. Leftwich retired the first 14 batters he faced in a must-win game against Missouri two weeks ago and retired the first 16 he faced Saturday. He threw 14.1 consecutive scoreless innings before surrendering a solo home run to Josh White in the sixth inning.
“Obviously the blister was something that we just couldn’t control and it lingered for a long time. So when you take that much time off, obviously you get out of your rhythm, I think he’s just starting to find his rhythm now,” O’Sullivan said of Leftwich. “Obviously he was one of our better guys at the end of the year. He pitched in three elimination games in the regionals, supers and then obviously against Texas Tech in the World Series. So it’s good to have him back to form, but it’s just taken awhile because of the blister.”
Florida scored early and often. The Gators posted a three-spot in the second inning. Wil Dalton led off with a walk and Kendrick Calilao drove him home with a home run. This was Calilao’s first home run since April 2, a 26-game span. A walk, double and a sacrifice fly scored another run. Austin Langworthy hit a two-run home run the following inning and then the Gators posted a 5-spot in the fifth. Florida sent 11 batters to the plate and used five hits along with two walks and two hit batters to score.
Calilao had a career day at the plate. The freshman first baseman was 3-3 with a run scored and 5-RBI.
“At the end of the day it’s just baseball,” Calilao said. “Whether it’s post-season whatever it’s regular season, you got to go out there and give it your all and continue to play hard.”
Leftwich finished the eighth inning before giving way to Kirby McMullen. The junior pitched a clan eighth before being replaced by Kris Armstrong in the ninth. Armstrong struggled to finish the game, giving up four runs.
The Gators season continues on Sunday afternoon. Freshman Nick Pogue will start for the Gators, who will play the loser of Texas Tech-Dallas Baptist.