Breakout inning carries Gators in NCAA opener

After Florida A&M starter Ricky Page struck out the side in the first inning, Kevin O’Sullivan brought his team together in the dugout before they hit in the second inning.

He saw too many uptight, nervous swings in the first inning. The Gators talked about not over-swinging at Page’s low-80s mph fastball, but they did just that in the first inning. O’Sullivan made sure his team knew what was happening and was ready to make an adjustment in the second inning.

The Gators took his words to heart, pounding out six combined runs in the second and third innings before running away with a 19-0 win over Florida A&M to advance to the winner’s bracket in the Gainesville Regional. The Gators pounded out 17 hits in the win.

Florida (45-16) will face South Florida (34-24-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“Relax,” Kevin O’Sullivan said of his message before the second inning. “We were over-swinging in the first inning. We don’t see many (soft-tossing lefties). That was my concern coming into the game. We needed to make an adjustment, we talked about it all week, but that was the main concern I had. We made some good adjustments as the game went along.”

As the Gators started rolling offensively, FAMU looked like a team playing in the program’s first NCAA Tournament. The Rattlers made three errors and couldn’t slow the Florida offense.

“There’s obviously not a lot to talk about from a FAMU perspective today,” FAMU coach Jamey Shouppe said. “It was just too much Florida, unfortunately. They kept putting the pressure on us early. We showed a chance to stay in the ball game, and then as the game wore on, it was like the tide coming in. It was too much orange and blue, too much Gators.”

Florida loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning on three singles. Mike Rivera’s sacrifice fly to right field scored the only run the Gators could manufacture, but the big inning came in the third.

Buddy Reed walked and Richie Martin singled to give the Gators runners on first and second to start the third inning. Josh Tobias rolled a ball to the third baseman, who threw to second base. However, second base umpire John Bullock ruled that FAMU second baseman Kendal Weeks didn’t step on the base. Tobias beat out his throw to first base, and the bases were loaded with no outs.

After Pete Alonso grounded into a fielder’s choice that allowed FAMU to get an out at the plate, the Gators scored two straight runs on a J.J. Schwarz walk and a Jeremy Vasquez single. Mike Rivera reached on an error by FAMU shortstop AJ Elkins that kept the bases loaded with one out, and Dalton Guthrie singled up the middle to drive in another run. Harrison Bader’s long sacrifice fly capped the third inning and gave Florida a 6-0 lead.

“We didn’t give away many at-bats when the score got away towards the second half of the game,” O’Sullivan said.

That lead would only expand, as Florida scored multiple runs in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Schwarz highlighted it with a towering blast that left the entire McKethan Stadium facility in the sixth inning. The freshman designated hitter ended the night 4-5 with a double, a home run, three runs scored and five RBI, padding his SEC lead. Schwarz would be the first freshman to lead the SEC in RBI since second baseman Todd Walker did it at LSU in 1992.

Florida started ace Logan Shore, but he was pulled after five shutout innings to ensure he’s available in some capacity for an elimination game on Monday if needed. Shore allowed just two hits and induced early contact to eliminate any chance of the Rattlers getting started offensively.

When Shore was lifted, Frank Rubio and Shaun Anderson each threw two innings to finish the game.

Florida will start left-hander A.J. Puk (8-3, 4.23 ERA) against USF Ryan Valdes (5-3, 3.16 ERA).

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