The 5th ranked Gator baseball team is officially off to a red hot start.
Gator pitchers combined to allow three hits and one run, Harrison Bader blasted a solo home run in the 4th inning to give the Gators the lead for keeps, and Florida edged 14th ranked Miami 2-1 in the rubber match of the series. Florida won the first game of the series on Buddy Reed’s walk off base hit, and lost the middle game yesterday 7-2, forcing a winner take all matchup today between the Gators and Canes. With today’s win, Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators improve to 6-1 on the year.
Dane Dunning started for Florida today, throwing five no hit innings. He did have a bit of a control problem in the second inning, walking three Canes- all with two outs- and then a passed ball by catcher Mike Rivera gave Miami a 1-0 lead. But after that, he settled right back down and continued mowing down the Hurricanes until he was relieved by Danny Young to start the sixth. Young sent the Canes down 1-2-3 in the sixth and got two outs in the 7th; Shaun Anderson came in and got three more outs before giving way to Kirby Snead with two outs in the 8th. Snead gave up a hit to Zack Collins, but Taylor Lewis came in and coaxed a popup to get out of the inning and preserve the 2-1 lead heading into the 9th. He then coaxed a harmless flyout off the bat of Brandon Lopez to end the game and cap a tremendous effort from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately for said pitching staff, the importance of their pitching performances was magnified by a less than stellar weekend from the Florida offense.
The Gators hit some balls hard this past weekend, and got 20 hits for the series. But eight runs in three games is nothing to brag about, especially when one came on a balk on Friday night. Two more came on solo home runs. This doesn’t speak too well of the Gators’ ability to launch a legitimate rally, and that’s certainly a bit concerning. Several times this weekend, Florida would string together back to back base hits, and get no runs out of it. For the series, the Gators hit a paltry 4-24 with runners in scoring position and left 19 runners on base. This is exactly the kind of offensive ineptitude that got the Gators unceremoniously bounced from their own Regional in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and while it’s February, three months away from when the serious baseball is played, it doesn’t exactly leave a great feeling.
On a more positive note, the Gators’ offense has seemed to find some power in the absence of cleanup hitter Pete Alonso. Harrison Bader has already blasted four homers on the year- through seven games, remember- and JJ Schwarz has hit three. The Gators have also hit 15 additional extra base hits, including four doubles by Bader and three from Dalton Guthrie. So the power hitting is there. Now it’s just a matter of getting it more consistently, so that a leadoff double isn’t wasted by three straight outs.
But we can save the concern about the lack of offensive production for another time, because for one thing, Miami has a very good pitching staff, and for another, it’s secondary in importance to the series win Florida just picked up.
Florida’s schedule is remarkably easy this season, which means Florida’s path to a favorable draw in the NCAA Tournament is going to have to be a gaudy win/loss record. It also means that the Gators will have to pick up big wins when they can get them, and taking two out of three from a Miami team that’s almost guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament certainly qualifies. The only other opportunities for big non conference wins remaining are three midweek games against FSU, and because midweek games rarely feature either team’s top starters, those have negligible value in the eyes of the Selection Committee.
So even though we’re still in February, Florida needed to win this series. And they did that. It’s obviously way too early to talk about where Florida’s going to wind up in the NCAA Tournament or the SEC, but this series win puts them in as favorable a position as anybody can be in.