Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to his bullpen, summoning left-hander Bobby Poyner. The senior induced a double play ball and recorded a strikeout to get out of the inning with the score tied at three.
The Gators (26-9, 7-6 SEC) exploded with the bats in the bottom half of the inning, pounding out six straight hits for a six-run fifth inning, helping No. 10 Florida cruise to a 14-3 win over the Gamecocks. The Gators have won six of the last seven and 10 of the last 13 meetings with South Carolina (23-12, 6-7 SEC).
“The turning point was Poyner coming in,” O’Sullivan said. “Bases loaded, nobody out and getting the double play. That’s one thing we have not been able to do a really good job of this year is when we do go to the bullpen, we’ve had a tendency to give up big innings. Even though they scored one, he was able to get the double play, get out of there and limit the damage. That was the turning point of the game.”
The tie game didn’t last long. After Poyner got out of the jam, freshman Christian Hicks hit his second career home run over the right field fence to put Florida up 4-3. Hicks was in the lineup on Friday because senior Josh Tobias was sick and sent home from the field before batting practice. O’Sullivan said he expects Tobias to return at some point this weekend.
After a one-out single by Richie Martin, Harrison Bader doubled to score him on a close play at the plate. Pete Alonso followed with an RBI single, and Buddy Reed drove him in with an RBI double to right-center. J.J. Schwarz lined an RBI double to left to make it 8-3. The final run of the inning scored on an RBI ground out by Mike Rivera.
“It’s contagious,” O’Sullivan said. “One guy gets going, the next thing you know, two guys get going. Then three guys are going. Everybody got hits tonight. Our nine-hole hitter, Christian Hicks, was put in the lineup and he runs into a ball. It’s contagious, but it can go either way. When you’re going good, you try to ride that wave as far as you can because it doesn’t stay like that forever.”
All nine Florida starters had at least one hit.
The Gators got off to a quick start with three runs in the first inning. Harrison Bader hit a towering solo home run to start the scoring. Florida then loaded the bases with two outs, and freshman Jeremy Vasquez drove in two runs with a single down the left field line.
On the mound, it wasn’t so easy. Florida starter Logan Shore lasted just four innings, allowing eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out two hitters. He was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning and then walking a hitter on four pitches that was trying to bunt.
That’s when Poyner entered and escaped the jam. O’Sullivan thought he was needed to use Poyner the rest of the way in a close game, but the six-run fifth inning allowed the senior to come out of the game after 28 pitches so that he’ll be available for the final two games this weekend.
“I knew it was a real turning point in the game,” Poyner said. “Obviously the goal was to get a double play or strikeout, and we were able to get the double play. Our guys did a good job turning it. It was limiting damage and keeping the score tied rather than letting them take the lead. As soon as we put the six-spot up, that was huge for our team’s momentum.”
Game two is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Gators have not announced a starting pitcher.