Kevin O’Sullivan was faced with a choice on Thursday night. With Tyler Dyson dealing with a shoulder impingement and new Sunday starter Jack Leftwich having thrown just four days ago he needed to pick a starter for Thursday.
He could have bumped up Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar a day each and keep the weekend rotation intact but with Leftwich struggling in his last three starts (12 earned runs in 17.1 innings) he went with another freshman, Tommy Mace, who would make his first career SEC start on the road.
Mace posted career highs for innings (6.1), strikeouts (5) and pitches (67) but wouldn’t factor into the decision as the Bulldogs punched its ticket to the SEC Tournament behind a four run eighth inning.
Mace made it into the seventh inning without allowing a run. The freshman lasted just one out, a shot to the warning track in right field before a hard hit single to left field from Hunter Stovall would end his night. Jordan Butler replaced him but quickly gave up a two-run home run to center field, cutting Florida’s lead to 3-2.
“In the grand scheme of things, he threw outstanding,” O’Sullivan said of Mace. “Even more than I thought. I probably could have left him in there in the seventh but I was really trying to be careful about him coming away feeling good about himself because we’ll really need him down the stretch.”
The eighth inning got out of hand quickly. Butler walked the leadoff batter before O’Sullivan turned to close Michael Byrne. Jordan Westburg attempted a sacrifice but JJ Schwarz’s throw sailed into center field to give the Bulldogs two runners on with its best player, Jake Mangum stepping into the box. The error proved costly when Mangum tripled to right field, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, 4-3. Byrne got one more out before Tanner Allen left the field in a hurry, tacking on two more runs to the lead.
Blake Reese got Florida going with a ground rule double to start the third inning. Reese scored on Deacon Liput’s one out single up the middle. Austin Langworthy launched a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. It was the sophomore’s first home run of the season and the Gators’ 77th home run this year, which is the most for any Florida team since the switch to the BBCOR bat in 2011.
The Gators are the only team in the SEC that has not lost a weekend series this season and they have won 19 consecutive weekend series dating back to 2017. They’ll be back at it tomorrow to try to keep that streak intact with Brady Singer on the mound at 7 pm. The game will be televised on ESPNU.