Gators handle business against USF

After returning from Athens late Sunday night and before leaving for Nashville early Wednesday morning, the Gators had their final midweek game on Tuesday night against USF.

For a young team, Florida (36-13) could’ve been temped to look ahead to the matchup with Vanderbilt, a big series that could help determine which teams get a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Gators played a clean game and finished a 5-1 win over USF in their final non-conference game of the year.

Florida has been inconsistent in recent weeks, falling behind in some games and being forced to fight back. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan chose to lighten the mood before Tuesday’s game.

“Our talk before the game was, ‘well, we’re probably come out flat and have to play from behind.’ They kind of got a chuckle out of it,” O’Sullivan said. “I explained to them how important tonight’s game was. We’re playing a very good USF team that has a chance to get into a Regional and their RPI is 29. It was important for us. If you want to be a team hosting Regionals, these types of games in the last 8-10 matter when the committee looks at things. There was a lot of things that factored into how important this game was. We came out focused and did what we needed to do.”

The scoring got started for Florida with three straight doubles to open the bottom of the second inning. Harrison Bader, Buddy Reed and J.J. Schwarz all doubled, with the last two driving in a run to give the Gators a 2-0 lead early.

Florida stretched its lead out in the fifth inning, starting with a two-run home run by Richie Martin. Josh Tobias followed with a double and stole third, scoring on a two-out infield single by Reed to push the Florida lead to 5-1 after five innings.

After being removed from the weekend rotation before last weekend’s series at Georgia, Dane Dunning earned the start on Tuesday. The sophomore went four innings, allowing three hits and one run while striking out a career-high eight hitters.

“He gave us four really good innings, kept his pitch count near 60 pitches where we can bring him back late in the series against Vanderbilt,” O’Sullivan said.

When he ran into trouble, left-hander Kirby Snead came out of the bullpen and and allowed only an infield single while completing four innings of work on 35 pitches. Snead got off to a rough start this year after finishing last season third on the team in ERA, but he has rounded into form recently and has given O’Sullivan a trusted left-handed arm to pair with closer Bobby Poyner.

“This is as good as he’s thrown since he’s been here,” O’Sullivan said. “Last year he had some outings where he threw the ball good, but he’s locating his fastball better and he’s able to use the slider to right-handers and left-handers for called strikes, he’s throwing it out of the zone with two strikes. He’s in a good place right now. I’m trying to stay out of his way, to be honest with you.”

Florida first baseman Pete Alonso was out on Tuesday after breaking his nose in batting practice when a ball hit him. O’Sullivan called it a “freakish” accident but said Alonso will travel to Vanderbilt and shouldn’t be impacted by it this weekend.

The Gators leave Gainesville on Wednesday to travel to Nashville for a big series. Florida and Vanderbilt square off in a three-game series that begins on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

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