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UF Baseball: Gators Open Florida Ballpark with Electric Win Over Miami

Tommy Mace hit some bumps early but delivered eight strikeouts and yielded just one run on three hits.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY ZACH DIRLAM

Unanimous preseason No. 1 Florida opened its 2021 season and Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field with a 7-5 win over No. 21 Miami, marking the Gators’ 16th victory in their last 19 games against the Hurricanes.

Freshman catcher Nathan Hickey delivered the first hit and home run in Florida Ballpark with a two-out moonshot to right field in the bottom of the first inning.

Miami pushed a run across in the second via a leadoff double, walk, and single, but junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Mace worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, which effectively put a charge into Florida’s offense. Freshman infielder Josh Rivera and sophomore outfielder Kendrick Calilao opened the fifth with singles, and sophomore outfielder Jacob Young drove in the go-ahead run with a single through the right side. The RBI single also extended Young’s hitting streak to 19 games.

Following a walk by sophomore outfielder Jud Fabian, Hickey sent a shot down the right field line, which caught the right edge of the foul line and hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double. Hickey’s two-RBI double put the Gators ahead 4-1.

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Florida plated another in the sixth via a triple by Rivera and single by Calilao in consecutive at bats. In the eighth, sophomore first baseman Kris Armstrong launched a missile over the right field berm for a two-run home run and a 7-1 lead.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Christian Scott took over for Mace after the fifth and did not allow a hit in three innings. Miami rallied with four runs in the ninth, but junior right-handed pitcher Franco Aleman shut the door with two outs in six pitches and earned a save in his Gators debut.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Mace. Friday night starters set the tone, and after Mace worked himself into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the third inning, he was electric. After he induced a lineout, Mace froze preseason All-America first teamer Alex Toral for the first of five strikeouts in the next seven batters he faced.

Even with some early bumps and a pitch count of 50 with nobody out and two men on base in the third inning, Mace finished the night with eight strikeouts and just three hits, two walks, and one run allowed across five innings. That’s a tone-setting performance.

STANDOUT STAT: 630 – The number of days Young’s hitting streak has been active. Young’s streak dates back to the second game of the 2019 Lubbock Regional, when the Gators faced Army on June 1.

On the offense…
“Nathan [Hickey] had a good night at the plate. Jordan Butler just keeps on hitting. Kris Armstrong had some good at bats as well – hit the home run, and hit a ball hard to the right side to the first baseman that almost got through. [The second half of the lineup] had good at bats. That’s the strength of our offense. We’ve got some length to it. When you’re hitting guys like Josh [Rivera] in the seven hole, Kendrick [Calilao] in the eight, and Cory [Acton] in the nine, it tells you how good our lineup, hopefully, is going to end up being.”

On the pitching changes in the ninth inning…
“We had a decision to make. We were either going to throw [Christian Scott] out there for one more inning and he’d be done for the weekend, or take him out and have him for an inning or so on Sunday. Chase [Centala] gave up the hit, then lost the strike zone a little bit. In retrospect, would I have done it again? I probably would have. You make decisions based on what you see in practice. He’s been throwing the ball really good. He’s probably not happy with himself right now, but I’ll run him back out there as soon as we can. He’s been throwing the ball good in practice.

FROM COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

On Tommy Mace’s performance…
“His pitch count got up after the second inning, which, obviously, we didn’t want. All in all, for his first start with the 11-month layoff, the expectations and playing Miami, new ballpark, I thought he handled it fine. I would predict him to be better as he moves forward. His breaking ball has gotten a lot better, and I think you saw that in the fourth and fifth inning. He’s always had that pretty good slider, but that (curveball) pitch has gotten better for him.”

On the offense…
“Nathan [Hickey] had a good night at the plate. Jordan Butler just keeps on hitting. Kris Armstrong had some good at bats as well – hit the home run, and hit a ball hard to the right side to the first baseman that almost got through. [The second half of the lineup] had good at bats. That’s the strength of our offense. We’ve got some length to it. When you’re hitting guys like Josh [Rivera] in the seven hole, Kendrick [Calilao] in the eight, and Cory [Acton] in the nine, it tells you how good our lineup, hopefully, is going to end up being.”

On the pitching changes in the ninth inning…
“We had a decision to make. We were either going to throw [Christian Scott] out there for one more inning and he’d be done for the weekend, or take him out and have him for an inning or so on Sunday. Chase [Centala] gave up the hit, then lost the strike zone a little bit. In retrospect, would I have done it again? I probably would have. You make decisions based on what you see in practice. He’s been throwing the ball really good. He’s probably not happy with himself right now, but I’ll run him back out there as soon as we can. He’s been throwing the ball good in practice.

“I told the players all at the end, if I call your name down in the bullpen, or give you a start here or there, I’m giving you confidence. I’m telling you indirectly, or directly, however you want to look at it, that I have confidence in you, and I’m going to run you right back out there. I never would have thrown anybody out there opening night against Miami if I didn’t have confidence in them. I’m not going to second guess that decision. You’re trying to win a series and win the games based on the next day and the next day. Chase will be better the next time he goes out.

“The positive with that, even though you don’t want to give up four runs in the ninth, you saw Franco [Aleman] come in his first outing as a Florida Gator and pitch like he did. In that aspect, he pitched in a leverage situation that was created by ourselves. But he should build on that and feel good about himself. With the negative part tonight, there’s also a positive. We’ll move forward and move on to tomorrow.”

UP NEXT: Florida and Miami are back at it Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. and live streaming via SECNetwork+. Junior right-handed pitcher Jack Leftwich is expected to start on the mound for the Gators.

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