It might have been NFL Draft night, but two of the top prospects for a different draft were on display at McKethan Stadium on Thursday night.
61 MLB scouts stood behind home plate as two of the top pitchers in the nation battled it out in the matchup of the season.
Florida’s Brady Singer and Auburn’s Casey Mize have dominated nearly every team they’ve faced in 2018, but only one could come out on top.
Both pitchers put on outstanding performances, but the No. 1 Gators (35-9, 15-4 SEC) got some run support early and never looked back on the way to a 3-1 win over the No. 22 Tigers (30-12, 9-10 SEC).
Singer got out of the first inning easily, with two swinging bunts and another soft ground ball to start things off.
Nelson Maldonado reached on an error as he hit a hard one-hopper to third with one out in the bottom of the inning, and Jonathan India followed him up with a homer into the left field bleachers on the second pitch he saw out of the hand of Mize.
Just like that Florida had a 2-0 lead, and it felt like those two runs might be all it would take with the arms going at it on the mound.
India, who is fresh off a 24-game hitting streak and leads the Gators with a .416 average, proved even more why he is a candidate for National Player of the Year honors as he jacked his 14th long ball of the season. The scouts standing behind the plate were there to watch the pitchers, but the one guy who could break that dominance up may have been even more impressive.
“Let’s face it, you have certain opportunities to showcase what you can do against one of the premier arms in the country,” said head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “He had some really good at bats tonight … And not just the homerun in the first. I thought his approach was really good and I thought he laid off some really good pitches.”
Singer allowed a few base runners over the next two innings, but didn’t find himself in any trouble until the fourth.
Edouard Julien smoked a high line drive to right center to lead off the inning. It looked like a double off the bat, but Nick Horvath cut it off and held him to a single. Singer proceeded to hit Brendan Venter on the very next pitch and Luke Jarvis laid down a sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third with one out.
Jay Estes grounded out to shortstop and Auburn plated its first run, but Singer came back to strike out Judd Ward and get out of the jam still up 2-1.
Mize rarely gives up free passes, but he nailed India in the back of the neck when he came back out for the bottom of the inning. He got the next two batters out quickly. Then, an Austin Langworthy single put the Gators back in business.
Freshman Brady Smith got the start at first base over Keenan Bell in the game, and he came through for a hard ground ball through the left side to score India from second. The answer gave Florida a two-run cushion back.
“How about Brady Smith,” O’Sullivan said. “A freshman facing a guy that’s going to pitch in the big leagues. He gets two strikes and then hits a ball hard in the six-hole. Just to be able to hit a ball hard as a freshman in that situation and drive in a run with two outs, it should probably give him a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Neither pitcher batted an eye after that inning. From there, it was pure talent on display, and none of the batters from either team stood a chance.
Singer begged to go back out there, but both coaches made the decision to take their star pitchers out after seven complete innings as both had exceeded 100 pitches.
Singer gave up just four hits while striking out eight on the night and Mize gave up three hits while striking out 10 of Florida’s batters. Unfortunately for Mize, the few hits he did allow came in key situations and the Gators took advantage of every opportunity he gave.
“It was awesome,” said Singer. “I think we both came out with an edge. We both knew it was a big game. I don’t think either one of us let it get to us. We came out and did our job. He threw really well. He’s an unbelievable pitcher.”
Jordan Butler put the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the eighth and Michael Byrne came in for the ninth to do what he does as he got his 11th save of the season.
With the win, Singer moves to a 9-1 record on the year and a 2.63 ERA.
The Gators will look to take the series against Auburn in Friday night’s matchup at 6:30 p.m.