Eagles edge Gators to take series

The middle rose as Florida's top issue on both sides of the ball Saturday evening. Both the middle of the order and the middle relief emerging from the bullpen weighed the Gators down in their 8-3 game two surrender of the FGCU series.

At the start of the contest, "Sweet Home Alabama" blared through McKethan Stadium for the second time of the season, signaling Tucker Simpson's start on the hill. The Oxford, Ala., native crunched in his second career start — rifling through 4.2 innings, the longest of his career thus far. He started strong, retiring the Eagles in order at the clutches of only eight pitches during his first half inning of work.

Simpson said he felt much more comfortable taking the mound Saturday than he did just one week ago in his start against Duke.

"Down in the bullpen, I felt like I had a good feel for everything," Simpson said. "I told (O'Sullivan) that he could call whatever he wanted — we could mix whatever."

UF's offense came alive early in the first when sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer pulled an RBI double into centerfield to bring freshman left fielder Harrison Bader across the plate. Bader was served with a walk to lead off the order.

The second inning was less productive for the Gators as first baseman Vickash Ramjit, catcher Taylor Gushue and designated hitter Josh Tobias were put down in order at the hands of FGCU right-hander Brandon Bixler.

Simpson maintained control in the third inning, retiring the Eagles in order yet again; however, UF followed suit at the plate with a quick 1-2-3 showing.

It was during the fifth inning when the Eagles answered back. Centerfielder Michael Suchy lead off with a single into center. Shortstop Alex Diaz pulled an RBI double into left field to tie the game. Simpson struck out designated hitter Tyler Selesky to mark the last batter he would face before left-hander Daniel Gibson entered the game. Simpson finished with 63 pitches to the 19 batters he faced.

"We probably could've left him in there," O'Sullivan said of Simpson. "I'm trying to get Daniel going a little bit. We're going to need him. He's going to have to get left-handers out. Tucker did his job. He did a really good job."

Gibson faced off against left-handed hitter and catcher Mike Reeves, who singled up the middle to score Diaz and bring the Eagles up 2-1.

After seven pitches, Gibson was through with his outing and O'Sullivan signaled for right-hander Ryan Harris to take the hill to start the sixth inning. Harris issued a one-out walk to second baseman Brooks Bednar and let up a left-field single to third baseman Zack Tillery. Suchy then pulled a three-run homerun over the leftfield bleachers to widen FGCU's lead 5-1.

"We have to locate better," O'Sullivan said. "It's as simple as that. Quality pitches get outs. Non-quality pitches go the other way. We have to make better pitches."

Florida Gulf Coast also issued a pitching change in the sixth inning, turning to left-hander R.J. Brown. Brown loaded the bases after freshman shortstop Richie Martin singled and pitches hit both Casey Turgeon and Zack Powers. Ramjit was issued a walk to score Martin and bring the score to 5-2.

But with bases loaded, Gushue popped up to second base to strand the runners. O'Sullivan pointed to the lack of the production from the middle of the order in the game 2 loss. Powers, Ramjit and Gushue all went o-fer on Saturday.

"They have to have better at-bats," he said. "Those guys have to hit for us, and they will. But right now they're having trouble scoring runs."

The start of the seventh brought in another pitcher for Florida — freshman Daniel Young. Young let up a leadoff single to Selesky who later scored off of left fielder Sean Dwyer's one-out triple into center. After the triple, Young was pulled and replaced by fellow freshman Mike Vinson. Vinson also let up a triple to centerfield to bring Dwyer home and up the Eagles' lead 7-2.

O'Sullivan substituted freshman Kevin Stypulkowski for Gushue behind the plate in the eighth. Though Vinson let up a leadoff walk to Suchy, he soon issued a strikeout and a double play to freeze the damage for the inning.

The Eagles' momentum carried over into the ninth when they posted two singles, a walk and a run to bring FGCU to a final lead of 8-2. Two freshmen stepped up for Florida in the final inning with Stypulkowski's double and pinch hitter Brady Roberson's RBI single to round out the score at 8-3.

The loss puts the Gators at a losing, 3-4 record for the season thus far.

"Teams go through periods where they don't play very well," O'Sullivan said. "It's disappointing we're not playing very well right now, but there's nothing we can do about yesterday or today. We have to come out and be ready to play tomorrow."

UF will face FGCU for the final game of the series Sunday at 12:30 p.m.


• In the seventh inning, DH Josh Tobias tripped over first base in an attempt to beat out his bunt. He was on the ground clutching his ankle before walking to the dugout with the trainer. After the game, O'Sullivan said he didn't know Tobias's status because he hadn't talked to the trainer yet.

• Coach Kevin O'Sullivan addressed his team's aggression on base running: "We have to do something. We can't just sit back and not be aggressive. That's who we are. We have to do that. I think that's the makeup of our club."

• Zack Powers earned the start at third base. Powers has been shuffling around the lineup, having been penned at first base and as designated hitter already this season.

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