(Note: this recap was written by our new staff writer, Jordan Polish. His account will be activated shortly and his future posts will appear under his name. In the meantime, welcome him warmly.)
Around 10:19 PM local time, the 2,390 Florida Gator fans in attendance at McKethan Stadium could finally exhale that long breath they had been holding in.
In not-so pretty fashion, the Gators survived the upset bid from Marist, champs of the Metro Atlantic Conference Tournament Champions and the fourth seed in the Gainesville Regional. It took a three run homer from JJ Schwarz in the bottom of the 8th to finally help Florida break away and give the much-needed breathing room for closer Michael Byrne to go to work, eventually recording his 15th save of the season after recording eight outs- the second longest save of his career.
The home town team was in trouble early, as starter Jackson Kowar didn’t exactly bring his best stuff to the table, going 5 1/3 innings allowing 5 runs, although only 2 being earned, 8 hits, and one walk. A couple of early hits to start the second inning was enough to plate the first run of the game, giving the Red Foxes an early 1-0 lead. That lead, however, wouldn’t last long as Mike Rivera lined a bases loaded single up the middle, scoring two Gators runs, giving them a 2-1 lead. The inning would continue with a RBI single from Nick Horvath scored Hicks from third, tacking on another run to make the score 3-1. Jonathan India later hit a sacrifice fly to left allowing them to plate yet another run in the inning, making the score 4-1 after the second. Florida was able to get across yet another in the 3rd, again, from the clutch timing hitting of Mike Rivera with a sacrifice fly.
With the score of 5-1 after three in favor of the Gators, things appeared to be going as expected. But a pair of Gator errors in the top half of the fourth inning allowed Marist to tack on three runs, allowing them to climb right back into the game. Florida would use their bats to atone, though, as India recorded another RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to extend the lead to 6-4. Kowar then recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the 5th and in the bottom of the 5th, Christian Hicks was able to score on three wild pitches, stretching the lead out 7-4.
But the underdogs still weren’t finished. Three straight hits from Marist in the top of the 6th was good enough to score two runs for the Red Foxes and just like that, Florida was in trouble again, clinging to a 7-6 lead.
This was when Kevin O’Sullivan brought on Michael Byrne, the typical closer, with 1 out in the 7th inning.
“There was no choice, I thought the game was on the line” O’Sullivan said later, when asked why he brought in the closer so early in the game. And the move paid off. Byrne was able to shut down the Marist hitters no problem, and in the bottom of the 8th, JJ Schwarz launched a three-run homer, his 10th of the season, to ensure some extra padding going into the final frame. Byrne then did his job one last time and got the final three outs to ensure a Florida victory.
With this win, the Florida Gators (43-16) will face the #2 team of the region, South Florida (42-17) in the winner’s bracket at 7 PM on Saturday. Marist (32-22) will face #3 Bethune-Cookman (33-24) in an elimination game at 1 PM.