You can learn a lot about your team during the first few weeks of a new season, especially a team with 12 freshmen and 15 newcomers. Through 16 innings it didn’t look like Kevin O’Sullivan was going to like what he was learning about his 2019 club.
Then Wil Dalton’s triple in the 7th inning gave Florida it’s first lead of not only the weekend but also the entire week that saw two midweek losses and everything changed.
“I think Wil’s at bat changed the whole complexion of the weekend to be honest with you,” Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It got the fans into it. It’s frustrating [for the fans], they’re watching us play and getting four hits and scoring a run or two each game – it gets a little frustrating for everybody. I thought his at bat kind of loosened everybody up and it got the fans energized. It set the tone coming into today.”
Tempers flared Saturday and the mood didn’t lose its edge on Sunday with Jack Leftwich on the mound for the Gators. Florida hadn’t lost a series to Miami since 2014 and this group of players didn’t want to reset that stat.
Jack Leftwich sat the Canes down in order in the first frame and the Gators Austin Langworthy walked with out advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored when freshman Kendrick Calilao singled to left field. Calilao, who turned 19 on Sunday, has been the hottest bat in the Gators lineup. He’s hitting .435 (10-23), slugging .739 and he’s shown a mature approach at the plate with seven walks.
“It’s just part of the game. People get in grooves and you continue to hit the ball and feel good at the plate,” he said. “You play your best when you’re not thinking about anything at all. I’m kind of in that stage right now.”
Leftwich did his best to keep the Canes at bay but credit to Miami, they were able to battle and work his pitch count before getting to him in the fourth inning. Adrian Del Castillo launched a fastball over the scoreboard in right field to tie the game but Florida responded immediately. Cory Action singled to right field and scored on a throwing error after a Blake Reese single.
That’s all Leftwich and the Gators staff needed. Florida would another run in the sixth inning when Calilao hit the first home run of his career and another insurance run in the eighth. Calilao doubled to start the inning, moved to second on a groundout and scored when Reese singled through the left side beating a Miami shift.
Jordan Butler replaced Mace in the sixth inning and immediately had to face two tough left-handed bats. He got Del Castillo to foul out and struck out the red-hot Alex Toral struck out swinging.
“I thought he did a really nice job and their lineup is a little bit difficult; I think they have five lefties,” O’Sullivan said. “He did a real nice job for us.”
Freshman Nolan Crisp was given the ninth inning looking for his second save in as many days and the fourth of his young career. Crisp struck out the first two batters he faced, letting out a primal yell and a fist pump after each and a ground ball to shortstop ended the game.
“He’s supposed to be a high school senior and he’s got four saves already,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s just really competitive. He has tremendous pace and he’s a bulldog. There’s a lot to be learned. Hopefully some of our older guys are watching.”
The Gators bounced back from Friday’s loss by outscoring the Canes 13-4. There are still deficiencies, it’s still a young team that will go through ups and downs and growing pains but O’Sullivan learned that his team isn’t going to quit.
“We don’t go through many stretches where we lose three games in a row,” O’Sullivan said. “Being behind going into the seventh inning [Saturday] I think says a lot about our team’s character and fight and these types of series are certainly going to help up going forward.”