It was an uncharacteristically chilly night at McKethan Stadium for mid-March, but that didn’t stop the Gator bats from getting hot. The Gators welcomed University of South Florida on Friday night for a weekend series, winning 9-1 in the opening game.
The top-ranked Gators moved to 14-0 on the season, continuing to extend the record for the best start ever to a season, and they remain as one of two teams that are undefeated. SEC counterpart Alabama is the only other team that touts the undefeated record.
Mace the Ace:
Florida’s Friday night starter, Tommy Mace, had one of his best outings of the season to date. The right-handed pitcher whizzed his way through seven innings. The Tampa native did not allow a single run and only two hits. He notched nine strikeouts and hasn’t given up a run in the last 11.1 innings he’s pitched.
Another stat to note, the Gators had gone 24 innings without allowing a run before USF scored on a pinch hit home-run by outfielder Dillon Besnier in the top of the ninth inning.
The Gators came out swinging, especially the bottom half of the lineup, including seven hole hitter, first basemen Kendrick Calilao, eight hole hitter catcher Nathan Hickey and nine hole hitter shortstop Josh Rivera. The top of the lineup set up the latter half of the lineup with two walks, a sacrifice fly, a single from outfielder Jacob Young, and a walk for second-baseman Cory Acton that put Florida up 2-0 when Calilao came to the plate in the first inning.
The sophomore first baseman launched a long three-run home run over the left field wall, a Peter Alonso type shot. The former Gator standout and first baseman is now starting for the Mets, continuing to hit long balls just like he did as a Gator.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan was thrilled with the production on the bottom half of the lineup.
“Between the 7-8-9 hole hitters we had eight hits on the night between those three guys,” he said.
Following Calilao’s homer that made the score 5-0, catcher Nathan Hickey sent one out of the park just three pitcher later. This was Hickey’s second home-run in as many games.
The Gators struck again in the seventh inning with two outs. Hickey kept swinging with an RBI sac-fly plus a single from third-baseman Kirby McMullen and a bases loaded walk to utility-player Jordan Butler that brought in the final three runs for Florida.
On the mound, freshman righty Brandon Sproat came in to relieve Mace in the eighth inning and allowed the only run of the game in the top of the ninth.
Still Work to Be Done:
Even with an eight run win, and a 14 game winning streak in tow, O’Sullivan is still not satisfied with his team’s performance.
“We had seven zeros on the board there,” he said. ” We can’t let ourselves get too comfortable and have good at bats.”
The head coach urged his team to stay focused as SEC play is approaching just around the bend.
Next up, the Bulls will be back again on Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium at 4 p.m. On the mound for the Gators will be righty Jack Leftwich while USF will put up right-hander Jack Jasiak.