With every pitch Florida freshman Austin Maddox saw during his at-bat in the eighth inning Sunday, he got more comfortable. On the ninth pitch, Maddox deposited the baseball over the right-field fence for a three-run home run, propelling the Gators to a 4-1 Southeastern Conference victory over Mississippi State at McKethan Stadium.
Two pitches into the at-bat, the freshman designated hitter already had an 0-2 count against him. He fouled off pitch after pitch from Bulldogs right-hander Ben Bracewell before seeing a slider that he could get the barrel of the bat on and drove it over a jumping Luke Adkins’ glove in right field.
“He battled like heck against a guy that’s got a really good arm,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He got one out of here the other way on a day that the ball wasn’t traveling. It just shows you how strong he actually is.”
The rally in the eighth started with a one-out walk worked by Kamm Washington. The Bulldogs then replaced right-hander Caleb Reed with Bracewell, who gave up a single by Preston Tucker to left field. The blast by Maddox followed, giving the Gators the cushion they would need to earn the series sweep over Mississippi State in the first weekend of SEC play.
“I felt more comfortable seeing more pitches,” Maddox said. “I had a couple bad at-bats early and made some adjustments. I got up there and battled until I got a good pitch, and I put a good swing on it.”
Kevin Chapman (1-0, 1.20 ERA) allowed two base runners in the ninth inning but finished the game off with 2.1 innings during which he allowed only two hits and recorded four strikeouts. He recorded the win in Sunday’s game after picking up his fourth save of the season in Saturday’s game.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Gators. From the sixth to the eighth inning, the Bulldogs left eight hitters on. They finished the game with 13 runners stranded, but there were no bigger missed opportunities than those three innings.
Hudson Randall started the game for the Gators, lasting 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and one run, while tying a career-high with five strikeouts. His only run allowed came when Wes Thigpen hit a solo home run over the left-field bleachers.
“He probably wants back that 1-0 pitch to Thigpen,” O’Sullivan said. “But other than that, to pitch into the sixth inning of his first SEC start and give up one run, I thought he was outstanding”
From there, Randall settled into a groove. He threw only 78 pitches and seemed in control for most of his time on the mound. He was pulled after allowing a double and a walk in the sixth inning. After Steven Rodriguez walked one batter to load the bases, he was replaced with senior Jeff Barfield.
The right-hander then struck out Thigpen and Jaron Shepherd to get out of the jam.
“I keep telling myself that I can’t do anything about the runners on base,” Barfield said. “All I can do is attack the hitter.”
Next inning, it was Chapman’s turn. Barfield gave up a two-out hit, and when reliever Justin Poovey gave up a walk and a single, the bases were loaded again. Chapman was called out of the bullpen to get out of the jam, and he struck out Jet Butler on four pitches to do just that.
“Kevin was outstanding again today,” O’Sullivan said.
The Florida offense was halted because of 5.1 quality innings from Reed, tying his career high. The submarine right-hander allowed only one hit and three walks while recording two strikeouts. He was charged with a run after his walk to Washington scored when Bracewell gave up the home run to Maddox.
“Their relief pitcher did a nice job,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got a different arm slot and it’s a little funky. He threw a lot of off-speed pitches in fastball counts. He accounted for a lot of lazy, fly ball outs. It was a frustrating day for the hitters overall.”
Florida scored in the second inning after Maddox reached base on a throwing error by the pitcher. After moving to second on a passed ball, he went to third on a single from Nolan Fontana. Jonathan Pigott then singled to left field to score Maddox.
The Gators return to action Wednesday night against Florida Gulf Coast at McKethan Stadium. First pitch is schedule for 6:30 p.m. Sophomore right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (2-1, 4.11 ERA) is the projected starting pitcher.