Comeback carries Florida to series win

Florida’s most consistent areas coming into Saturday were its defense and back end of the bullpen. Both broke down in the seventh inning to put the Gators in a three-run hole with only six outs at the plate remaining.

That’s when Kevin O’Sullivan gathered his team together in the dugout before they hit to start the eighth inning. The Gators made a big error in the seventh inning and walked in one run, helping the Commodores take a 7-4 lead. He made sure his team wasn’t going to cave in and hand the game to Vanderbilt the rest of the way, and the Gators didn’t, pulling out a 9-7 win in 10 innings to clinch the series.

“I basically told them that the game was not over,” O’Sullivan said on the postgame radio show. “We had six outs left, and I was proud of the way we played this weekend but we’re going to go out swinging and go out playing our best baseball the last two innings. What a great series it was. Two great teams, back-and-forth. It was an even series this weekend that could’ve went either way.

“I can’t say enough about our guys’ resolve and how they hung in there against one of the best teams in the country.”

An RBI triple by J.J. Schwarz cut the lead to two runs, and two batters later, Ryan Larson lined a two-out RBI single to left to cut the Vanderbilt lead to 7-6 after eight inning.

In the ninth inning, Florida looked done. There were two outs and nobody on when Buddy Reed lined a single to center field. After Pete Alonso walked, Schwarz singled to right field to tie the game with two outs and send the game to the bottom of the ninth before extra innings.

Schwarz was in a funk coming into the weekend, but he broke out in a big way against one of the best pitching staffs in the country.

“It’s remarkable,” O’Sullivan said. “He had a good weekend. The game is never over until the last out.”

In the 10th inning, Florida continued its momentum with a one-out double by Dalton Guthrie. Richie Martin followed with a single to left field that was caught on a short hop by Jeren Kendall, who tried to throw behind Guthrie at second base. The ball slipped out of his hand in the process and went all the way into the Florida dugout on the first base side, scoring Guthrie and sending Martin to third. Josh Tobias scored Martin with a sacrifice fly to give the Gators a 9-7 lead they would hold.

Florida right-hander Taylor Lewis allowed a leadoff single in the bottom of the 10th but it was erased when Ro Coleman, one of the fastest players on the Vanderbilt roster, hit into a double play. A fly out followed to end the game.

The best news for Florida was how they handled the back-and-forth nature this weekend. After dropping the series opener and being shutout by Carson Fulmer, the Gators bounced back to win two games after struggling with their backs against the wall in recent weeks. This was different, and O’Sullivan sees it as a sign of his team playing its best baseball at the end of the year.

“I’ve been waiting for our team to show that kind of emotion,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve been kind of plodding along as the year has gone on, and we’re very talented. This is the most emotion we’ve shown on a weekend. There’s a lot for us to bring home to Gainesville moving forward.

“This was a weekend we needed. I’ve always known we were talented enough, but we needed some leadership and to handle some adversity. We hadn’t handled it well on the road. To do it this weekend against such a good team, it should bode well for us moving forward.”

The game got off to a positive start for Florida. Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler was struggling through the first inning and had two runners on base with two outs. Sophomore center fielder Reed drove an opposite field home run over the left field fence, putting the Gators up 3-0 before ever taking the field to play defense.

When that did happen, they returned some of the runs quickly.

Freshman right-hander Alex Faedo got the start, but gave up a leadoff single and then allowed a two-run home run to Swanson, cutting the Florida lead to 3-2 after the first inning. Rhett Wiseman led off the third inning with a solo home run to tie the game on the last pitch Faedo threw before he was pulled.

Swanson struck again in the fifth inning, lining a solo home run into the left-center field bleachers to give the Commodores a 4-3 lead.

The Gators fought back to tie it in the seventh inning. After going 0-5 with runners in scoring position this weekend, Martin lined an RBI single to left field to score Mike Rivera and tie the game. It didn’t last long, as the Commodores struck back with their three-run seventh inning in the bottom half of the inning.

Florida returns to action when it hosts Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m. to begin the final regular season SEC series of the year.

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