Gushue delivers as Florida evens the series

The Gators were searching for a big hit throughout their six-game losing streak. On Saturday night, they got it from the player that needed it the most. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue has been slumping early this season, but his two-run single in the eighth inning put Florida ahead for good. The Gators secured a 6-4 win on Saturday night to end the losing streak and even the series with Miami.

The sophomore catcher came into Saturday night struggling with a .212 batting average. Counted on to be one of the run producers in a lineup without much power, the Gators were desperate for Taylor Gushue to get going at the plate.

He saved his best at-bat for one of the biggest moments of the early season. After the Gators loaded the bases with no outs on a Casey Turgeon walk, Justin Shafer double and Zack Powers hit by pitch, Turgeon lined a ball to right field to score two runs and give the Gators a 4-3 lead.

"It felt great," Taylor Gushue said. "I can't describe that feeling — the hit to put you ahead. I wasn't trying to do too much. That's the biggest thing to do in those situations. You can't do too much."

Gushue's swing hasn't been right in the early part of the season. The switch-hitter has been off balance and popping up balls that he usually drives. The hope from the Florida coaching staff is that Saturday night's game-winning hit can turn things around for him.

"We've been looking for a guy to step up and have a big at-bat all year long," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "That one was a big one. We didn't want to go into the ninth with a one-run lead. We had a chance to open it up a little bit, and he stayed on a ball and hit it firmly the other way. It was good to get a little cushion.

"I don't think it's just him (that has struggled). It's everybody. Losing does that. Everybody tries to do too much."

It was easy to see the mood change in the Florida dugout after the hit. Despite frigid temperatures, the energy reached a level it hasn't been very often during this season.

"When you break a — what is it, six games? — yeah, a six-game losing streak, things tend to change in the dugout," said a smiling Gushue, who truly didn't know how long the losing streak was.

After the big blow, Miami made enough mistakes to help the Gators score two more runs. AJ Salcines allowed the hit to Gushue, but Miami head coach Jim Morris went to right-handed side armer Adam Sargent after the two-run single. Sargent's first pitch went to the backstop, scoring Powers from third.

After Connor Mitchell bunted Gushue to third base, Sargent bounced a pitch in the dirt that got away from Miami catcher Alex San Juan, allowing Gushue to score with ease and give the Gators a 6-3 lead after the eighth inning.

"We got more than one run up there and put up a crooked number," Turgeon said. "That was big."

The only offense Florida produced in the first five innings came with more help from the Hurricanes. After Justin Shafer singled with one out in the fourth inning, Miami starting pitcher Javi Salas made an errant pick off throw to first that allowed Shafer to make it to third base. He scored on a sacrifice fly from Gushue, who drove in three of Florida's six runs.

Turgeon then led off the sixth inning with a solo home run, his second of the season, into the right-center field bullpen to cut the Miami lead to 3-2.

"We had a rough stretch there, but that's what baseball is all about — it's ups and downs," Turgeon said.

Florida got 4.1 innings out of freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson, who gave up six hits and three runs (two earned) while walking two and striking out six, a season high for the Florida pitching staff. Ryan Harris followed with 3.1 shutout innings, and Johnny Magliozzi, who picked up his first win of the season, allowed one run in 1.1 innings to end the game.

The Gators now have to carry this momentum into Sunday's rubber game. The early-season struggles would be much less important if they can find a way to scratch out a series win over Miami.

"It's more important than anything right now," Gushue said. "We've got a good thing going right now. It's only one game, and we have to look at it like that, but carrying the motions into tomorrow is a good idea."

Florida will send freshman right-hander Eric Hanhold to the mound to face Miami sophomore left-hander Andy Suarez. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.

"Everybody has been pressing, so winning is contagious, too," O'Sullivan said. "Hopefully pregame meal will taste a little better tomorrow than it has been."


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