The Florida Gator baseball team refused to be swept in their first series of SEC play this season. After losing the first game of the series to Mississippi State on Friday, the Bulldogs once again got the better of the Gators in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader 10-5 at McKethan Stadium.
Having already lost their third straight series to the Bulldogs, the Gators were able to show fight and plenty of grit in the second game of the doubleheader. Florida would ride a quality pitching performance by junior Tyler Dyson to salvage the series finale 4-2.
Florida is now 15-7 and 1-2 in league play while the Bulldogs are 18-2 and 2-1 in the SEC.
Leftwich suffers his first loss of the season in Game 1
Florida sophomore starting pitcher Jack Leftwich has been one of the most consistent performers for Florida and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan through 20 games. Prior to his start Saturday he was sporting a stellar 2.05 ERA through 22 innings of work. He’d also struck out 22 batters and issued just four free passes.
On Saturday, his stuff simply wasn’t fooling too many hitters.
The sophomore was bitten by the long ball in the first, fourth and sixth innings. In the fifth, it was two consecutive doubles Gunner Halter and Jake Mangum that scored the third run for the Bulldogs.
While Leftwich suffered the same fate as fellow sophomore Tommy Mace (4-1) did in the series opener, Mace struggled more with command and control. Leftwich, on the other hand, was tagged for seven hits and five runs despite not issuing a walk in his 5.1 innings.
Despite some offense from Florida, their bullpen couldn’t stop the Bulldogs from adding on. The Gators chased starter JT Ginn (6.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 11 K) in the seventh inning, but the Gators had dug themselves an early hole too large to overcome.
Maldonado’s big game at the plate proves vital in Game 2
Two games into their first SEC series and the Gators were on the brink of getting swept by the team with the best record in the conference. The game’s start time might’ve been affected by weather, but starter Tyler Dyson wasn’t. In fact, Dyson produced arguably his best performance (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, K) of the season.
Florida did most of its damage in the fourth inning. The Gators got their first run fortuitously, and that jump start was all they needed. With Mississippi State up 1-0, Bulldogs’ starter Keegan James balked to score Nelson Maldonado from third and advance Wil Dalton to second. Kris Armstrong then kept himself rolling after homering in the first game with an RBI double that gave Florida its first lead of the day.
A seeing-eye single to left field by catcher Brady Smith then plated Armstrong. Florida would get one more in the fifth inning on a solo homer from Maldonado to left field, one of three hits he had in the game.
Nelly brings the 💥BOOM💥
His third hit of the day is a solo shot to left and the #Gators lead 4-1.
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) March 16, 2019
Dyson, Jordan Butler and Christian Scott would piece together the victory for coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s team on the mound. Scott, specifically, pitched 2.1 innings of one-hit ball to close out the Bulldogs to record his first save of the year.
O’Sullivan spoke about what he said was Dyson’s best performance of the season after the doubleheader.
What it means
O’Sullivan said his team knew it was important for them not to get swept in their first SEC series this season. They managed not to do that.
Mississippi State is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the SEC. They’ll likely eclipse Florida in the national rankings after this weekend. O’Sullivan admitted that they’re maybe the best opponent his team has faced all season.
He gave an honest assessment of his team and what he’s seeing right now after the doubleheader.
Florida’s head coach now hopes his team will learn from this weekend and continue to play “good baseball.” Both teams will be at home on Tuesday. Once again, Florida will host the Jacksonville Dolphins (11-8) at 6 p.m while the Bulldogs will play the Little Rock Trojans (6-13) in Starkville.
Freshman Nolan Crisp is expected to start Tuesday’s game for Florida after working strictly from the bullpen this season.
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) March 17, 2019