Steven Branscombe / USA TODAY Sports

JU beats Gators in walk off fashion 3-2

Jacksonville University (3-1) second baseman Scott Dubrule singled with one out and bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning in a tie ball game with the Florida Gators (3-1) and scored the winning RBI for the Dolphins. It was the last run of a three run rally in the ninth for the Dolphins.

The Dolphins hadn’t scored a single run until the ninth inning, when several key pitching errors resulted in a JU offense that suddenly strung some nice at-bats together.

The loss sullied the night that starter Michael Byrne had on the mound for the Gators. The sophomore threw seven innings and scattered seven hits, while striking out eight, and not walking a single batter all night.

It looked good for the Gators early who got on the board in the top of the second inning. JU third baseman Sam Armstrong gathered Mike Rivera’s groundball to lead off the inning, but for some reason felt as though he had to rush the throw to first baseman Angel Camacho. The throw sailed over Camacho’s head and rattled around the Gators dugout area, allowing Rivera to advance to second base. Freshman Austin Langworthy would follow Rivera’s at-bat with a walk advancing Rivera to second. Sophomore Nelson Maldonado after a couple of failed bunt attempts finally swings himself into a fielder’s choice getting Langworthy out at second and advancing Rivera. Junior Mark Kolozsvary would then gets Rivera home for the first run with a fielder’s choice grounder to short.

In the top of the 3rd inning, junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie singled into left field and moved to second base on JU’s Casey Kulina’s wild pitch. Florida then played textbook baseball to push him across the plate. Guthrie moved to third on sophomore Deacon Liput’s ground ball to first base and scored on sophomore Jonathan India’s groundball to second base.

That would be it for the scoring for the Gators. With other opportunities there for the taking, Kulina pitched a very good game spreading five hits over seven innings and just the two runs.

Junior Nick Horvath led off the top of the 5th with a double deep to center field in the 5th. The JU centerfielder was running backwards and the ball went off the very end of his glove and to the track. Guthrie followed with a base hit that was going through the left side of the infield and bounced off Armstrong’s glove. Horvath went to third base on the play, giving the Gators runners on the corners with only one out. However, they failed to capitalize despite sending the Liput and India to the plate.

Senior Ryan Larson led off the 7th with a liner into right field. He was erased when Kolozsvary hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Florida had yet another opportunity to put runs on the board in the 9th. Rivera singled into left field with one out. Langworthy followed, collecting his first hit of the game up the middle. Ryan Larson stepped in and ripped a pitch centerfield, as Rivera raced around third base for the plate. However, Connor Stephens threw a bullet to the plate that easily nailed Rivera.

The Gators then turned to closer Frank Rubio. The senior gave up back-to-back singles to Dakota Julylia and Stephens. In a bizarre move, JU head coach Chris Hayes sacrificed his clean-up hitter Angel Camacho to bunt. He looked very uncomfortable and struck out.

O’Sullivan lifted Rubio for freshman Andrew Baker to get the lefty/lefty matchup versus Armstrong. However, Baker uncorked a wild pitch that moved the runners into scoring position and two pitches later Armstrong drilled a fastball off the left field wall as two runners touched the plate to tie the game, 2-2. After a couple of more walks loaded the bases, Baker gave up the walk off single to Dubrule to complete the comeback for the dolphins.

After the game, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was most concerned about the lack of production at the plate.

“The bottom line is we need to score more than two runs,” he said. “We had some scoring opportunities, I think we had a runner at third with Deacon up and we struck out.  The center fielder made a heck of a throw home and catcher made a nice snag on a short hop and a nice tag on Mike. We chased out of the zone a lot on fastballs. Their pitcher Kulina did a nice job.

Sully knew there would be times like this early in the season, especially for a very youthful bullpen, that is why it is so important for his guys to take care of putting runs on the board.

“We knew going into the year that our weekend rotation was going to be very strong and if those guys pitched the way they were capable it would take a little bit of a load off of our pen,” O’Sullivan said “We also knew that in mid-week games we were going to have to score some runs because our pen is so youthful. We have to give ourselves a little bit of breathing room and give these guys a chance to get comfortable a little bit.

Byrne was really good, and the head coach couldn’t have been happier about his seven inning performance.

“Michael Byrne was outstanding tonight,” he said. “Seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. He was really good. I thought Nick Horvath did a nice job in the eighth.”

While Baker got the loss on the night and struggled in the ninth, O’Sullivan wants him more than anything to learn from the situation and he expects that he will.

“To their credit, JU’s hitters got back-to-back hits off of Frank and obviously Baker was a better match up for left handers hitters,” O’Sullivan said about the move to the freshman to close out the game. “Not a great matchup with Frank with his arm angle and left handed hitters. Baker’s been throwing the ball (well) and it is a good learning experience for him. It’s the fourth game of the year.

“What we’re trying to do is trying to figure out our team before we start conference play,” he said. “The bottom line is that it’s not going to always be going the way you want it to go. You’re going to have some adversity and have to respond in a positive way. It’s not the end of the world. We’ll come back tomorrow and we play them tomorrow and (Baker) might have a chance to pitch tomorrow. He will certainly have to pitch against Miami.

The Dolphins do travel to Gainesville on Wednesday for a rematch with the Gators. Game time is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. 

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