Gators feeling momentum after UCF win

Things are starting to change for the Gators. For the first time this season, there's some optimism building in the home dugout at McKethan Stadium. After taking the weekend series over Ole Miss, it continued on Tuesday. The Florida offense was quiet for the first five innings before scoring during its final three plate appearances, clinching a 5-3 win over UCF.

"It seems like our team is starting to come together," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Confidence is building. We've been playing better since the Vanderbilt series. It has been a tough go of it. We've had different circumstances and haven't played our best, but I have felt like we've played better since Vanderbilt. "

It didn't look like that to start on Tuesday. UCF jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning on an RBI single by Jeramy Matos and a bases loaded walk to left fielder JoMarcos Woods. The Knights settled in behind starting pitcher Eric Skoglund, who tossed 5.1 innings, allowing five hits, two runs and striking out one hitter.

Skoglund's issues came in the sixth inning. After Casey Turgeon started the inning with a single and moved to second on a groundout, Florida catcher Taylor Gushue smoked a single to left field to get the Gators on the board. Justin Shafer followed with a strikeout, but Vickash Ramjit came up with a two-out double off the left field wall to score Gushue and tie the game.

Those runs helped the pitching staff settle in.

"Those late-inning rallies with two outs, that's a big help for us," Florida right-hander Ryan Harris said. "It's a big confidence boost for our hitters. They did a good job with two outs. Pitchers love it when we get those runs."

It was Daniel Gibson that saved the Gators from burning multiple bullpen arms. He tossed a career-high 4.1 innings, allowing three hits and recording three strikeouts. When Gibson got tired, O'Sullivan gave the ball to Harris, who allowed one run in two innings and recorded four strikeouts.

"We're in a situation where we can't be messing around," O'Sullivan said about using two of his best arms on Tuesday.

The Florida offense continued its scoring in the seventh inning when UCF held a 3-2 lead. With two outs and runners on second and third, Gushue rolled a routine ground ball to third base, but UCF third baseman Chris Taladay couldn't field it cleanly, allowing the Gators to tie the game.

A wild pitch followed to give Florida a 4-3 lead. The Gators tacked on insurance in the eighth inning when Harrison Bader grounded out to score one run and push the lead to 5-3.

O'Sullivan gave the ball to closer Johnny Magliozzi in the ninth inning, and he didn't allow a base runner while striking out two hitters to earn his sixth save of the season.

"That's what we look for. Harris, Gibby and Mags -- those are our guys," Ramjit said. "Our workhorses came in and took over. They did a good job."

The pitching staff has been a key to Florida's three-game winning streak. During the 27 innings of the streak, the Gators have allowed 14 hits, three earned runs, eight walks and struck out 19 hitters.

It's a hot streak that has carried the Gators to recent success.

"They're more confident," Gushue said. "They just weren't as confident in their stuff. We talk about aggression all the time. When they get aggressive, we get better. When pitchers aren't effective, they're not throwing strikes. We pound it into our pitchers heads that you've got to throw strikes. They've been doing that really well lately."

The hope is now to take this momentum to Starkville for this weekend's series. There's a different feeling around the team. They're positive and confident after playing well in recent games. That's a new feeling for the players this year.

"We're just in a really good place as a team," Gushue said. "Everybody's loose, everybody's having fun. Winning helps."

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