Kan Li / Scout

Byrne and Schwarz key Gators victory

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win in the opener for the No. 3 Florida Gators Baseball team and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was glad to get it. The Gators (1-0) ground through a tough game with William and Mary (0-1) to edge out The Tribe for a 5-4 victory in front of 5,402 at McKethan Stadium on the University of Florida campus.

The Gators never held the lead until the seventh inning when sophomore Jonathan India scored the final run from third base on a wild pitch that was collected and then dropped on the tag by catcher Hunter Smith. India reached base on the only error of the game when an errant throw from third baseman Zach Person allowed him to reach first.

The run scored by India was the antithesis of a frustrating night for the Gators on the base paths as they stranded 10 base runners through the course of their eight innings at the plate.

The frustration with the Gators’ offense started The Tribe built an early 4-1 lead with freshman Brandon Raquet homering in his first at-bat as a collegian off of Florida ace starter Alex Faedo.  Faedo surrendered another RBI to Raquet in his second at-bat with a single in the fourth and then was pulled with two on in scoring positon in the fifth.

Cullen Large would triple off of reliever Nick Horvath although Faedo would be held responsible for all four runs. Horvath finished the rest of the fifth unscathed

The Gators down 4-1 at this point got back on the board with a  two out, two RBI single by junior J.J. Schwarz with junior Dalton Guthrie and freshman Blake Reese scoring on the play and making the score 4-3.

Horvath would then come in and end the Tribe’s 6th inning in three straight batters before giving way to sophomore Michael Byrne in the 7th.

With runners on 2nd and 3rd and no out, Schwarz would get his third RBI of the night on a dribbler to the pitcher who wanted to come home with the ball but bobbled allowing sophomore Deacon Liput to score. Pitcher Nick Raquet then turned and threw Schwarz out at first and India advanced to third setting up the dramatic play at the plate that was the eventual game winning run by India on the errant pitch.

With the lead in hand heading into the eighth inning, Byrne was about spectacular to the finish. He ended the night throwing for three full innings and giving up no runs and just one hit while striking out four and walking none.

 O’Sullivan said after the game that this was a typical opener for any team.

For whatever reason, the first weekend is always a typical one because everybody’s excited and probably overaggressive at the plate at times,” Florida’s skipper said after the game. “Pitchers are trying to do too much and those types of things.”

Despite the frustrations, O’Sullivan saw some good things with the close win.

“All in all, there are a lot of positives,” he said. “It’s the first game and J.J. had the big two-out RBI there and drove in two.  It was a big at bat and we had quite a few runners at third base and less than two outs and didn’t have our best at bat. Those are things we have to get better at.

“I think Horvath throwing a clean sixth was important for us… It kind of slowed things down for us. Obviously Michael Byrne was outstanding.

“Jonathan India had a really aggressive base running play at third base and scored the go ahead run. There were a lot of positives and obviously some things we need to clean up, but it’s the first weekend, the first game of 56, and we’ll take it.”

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 O’Sullivan was also quick to give credit to the pitching staff that William and Mary put on the mound Friday night.

“Nick Brown, their starter, pitched at the Cape and has a good breaking ball,” O’Sullivan started. “I watched a ton of video on him and he didn’t throw many changeups and then tonight he did. He’s good and a senior, somebody’s going to draft him and they bring in a left hander (Nick Raquet) that was throwing 94-95. He threw just enough breaking balls to make it very difficult to hit. I don’t know if you will face a better left handed arm the whole year.

O’Sullivan was equally excited about the play of Byrne who finished the game strong.

“Michael Byrne was outstanding,” he said. “He had really good rhythm and tempo. He attacked the strike zone, threw 38 pitches and 31 strikes and seven balls. He moved the ball back and forth on the plate. He was probably the MVP of the ball game.”

“You look at that I bring him in the 7th inning on opening night in a ball game we were down by a run,” he said in a bit of disbelief. “That shows the confidence I have in him.  We map out the three lineups we’re gonna go with, but also the bullpen is important for us. It’s always important to get the first win of the year. You don’t want to lose the first game of the year at home and get your season off to a tough start.

“The idea was to go with Horvath and Byrne because they are both older and have some experience and then go with (Frank) Rubio. But I felt like Michael was in such a good rhythm and temp that we could overthink it and obviously he closed out the game.”

There is no shame in a victory like the one the Gators got Friday. The Tribe is a group that won two games in a NCAA regional a year ago and return a lot of key players on their squad. The key was getting the win and now O’Sullivan can point to some things that the Gators have to get better at.

“We have a lot of things to work on, everybody does,” he said. “I will go home tonight and watch FOX Sports and some other teams around the country and you’ll see teams that are ranked in the top 10 or 20 and lose to teams that some people may have never heard if. That’s college baseball.” 

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