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UF Baseball: Gators’ Sunday Rally Fizzles Out as Hurricanes Take Opening Series

Jacob Young extended his hitting streak to 21 games Sunday afternoon.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY ZACH DIRLAM

Top-ranked Florida dropped a series to in-state rival Miami for the first time since 2014, as its late rally came up two runs short in an 8-6 loss Sunday at Florida Ballpark / McKethan Field.

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The Gators fell into an 8-0 hole by the middle of the fourth inning, but they clawed back with runs in the fourth and fifth innings and scored two runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings. Florida brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the eighth following back-to-back singles by fourth-year junior utility player Jordan Butler and second-year freshman infielder Josh Rivera. With only one out and runners at the corners, freshman outfielder Sterlin Thompson laced a ball right into the mitt of Miami first baseman CJ Kayfus, who tagged Rivera for an inning-ending double play.

Florida went down in order in the ninth with three consecutive flyouts.

Second-year freshman catcher Nathan Hickey started as the designated hitter, smacked two hits, and drew a walk, adding to a monster opening weekend. Hickey finished the series with seven hits in 13 at bats and led the team in batting average (.538), slugging percentage (1.077), runs batted in (five), and home runs (two).

Butler tallied three hits and two RBI Sunday, giving him a .429 average for the series.

Third-year sophomore Jacob Young also had one of Florida’s four multi-hit games Sunday, thus extending his hitting streak to 21 games. Young is within striking distance of the longest hitting streak of the Kevin O’Sullivan era (24 games by Jonathan India in 2018) but has a long road ahead to Tim Olson’s 21-year-old school record of 29 games.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Christian Scott. The third-year sophomore was a key piece of Florida’s bullpen last year, finishing the shortened 2020 season with a 1.20 ERA across 15 innings pitched – a team high among relievers.

In two appearances this weekend, Scott impressed both times, finishing the series without a run allowed, only two hits allowed, and two walks allowed in 5.2 innings pitched. Scott picked up right where he left off in 2020.

STANDOUT STAT: 30 – walks and hit by pitches issued by Gators pitchers in the three-game series. Coach O’Sullivan elaborated on this stunning number in Sunday’s postgame press conference.

FROM COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

On the weekend overall…
“I guess the best way to describe it was unexpected. Won Friday night even though it was a little closer than we wanted it to be with a six-run lead, and won a game with some momentum, new ballpark, everything. Then uncharacteristically, some of the guys who’ve been there before just did not pitch as well as they should have. It literally happened within a 48-hour period, and I don’t have any answers. These guys have all pitched on the weekend, they’ve been pretty consistent in the fall, pretty consistent in the spring. I don’t know.”

On pitching management this weekend…
“We had to use [Ben] Specht and Franco [Aleman] Friday night, which we should not have. It’s kind of like a domino effect. When one guy doesn’t do his job, it puts more pressure on the bullpen. Not having [Nick] Pogue obviously puts us in a different position. And not having [Tyler] Nesbitt or [Ryan] Cabarcas puts us even more in a different position. Then when one guy doesn’t do his job Friday, it affects Saturday. Expected both starters to probably go six innings this weekend, and neither one did Friday or Saturday. Then we have to use Franco yesterday for the second day in a row. Totally trust him. Probably just a little too amped up. I’ve never seen him lose control like that in any practice or scrimmage, or anything. Then we’ve got to use Specht again. But neither one of those guys should’ve been used Friday night. Now they’re not available today.

“With the bullpen being a little light, we needed our starter to get a little deeper into the game. We ran our pitch count up again, fell behind three runs in the first. Now that puts more pressure on the bullpen again. We’ve got to go to a freshman in the fourth, and Miami put up a three-spot. We had the least amount of walks per nine (innings) in the fall and spring combined than we ever had here before. This weekend, we walked more than I ever anticipated.

“We just did not pitch economically. We didn’t pitch smart. I don’t know if guys were anxious, or trying to overthrow, or if their heart rate was up. I don’t know.”

On what the series turned on this weekend…
“You’ve got to credit Miami. I think the difference in the weekend was their starter yesterday. He gave up five in the first and held it together for three more innings, gave his team a chance to get back into it. Today, we were not able to do that. We gave up three in the first and were not able to get back into the rhythm of the game. I think that was the difference in the weekend. That was a turning point for them.”

UP NEXT: Florida will play a home-and-home with North Florida Tuesday and Wednesday. The Gators travel to Jacksonville for a 6:05 p.m. matchup Tuesday and return home Wednesday for a 6 p.m. game at Florida Ballpark.

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