Jackson Kowar was scoreless on the mound through seven innings behind tremendous defense from his infield. Shortstop Dalton Guthrie had three plays that were Sports Center Top 10 worthy in the contest, showing range, speed, quickness, and an uncanny ability to throw the ball accurately without even seeing his target.
“That’s the best defensive game I think I’ve ever seen from an infielder with Dalton Guthrie,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said which carries a lot of merit given the players he has coached. “He made some plays today that were … I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just an amazing day defensively for him. That’s probably the biggest reason that we were able to win the game.”
J.J. Schwarz helped Kowar early on when he hit a line drive shot over the right field wall in the second inning. Sophomore Nelson Maldonado led off the second with a single and Schwarz got him home with his shot spotting Kowar an early 2-0 lead.
The Gators added another run in the fourth inning when senior Ryan Larson led off the inning with a single to left field. Junior Christian Hicks advanced Larson on a grounder to first base that saw him retired. Larson then moved to third on a wild pitch. Junior Mark Kolozsvary then almost doubled the score but saw his long fly ball become an out at the warning track in center field. However, it was enough to score Larson on the play.
Florida tacked on another run in the sixth that would prove to be the game clincher. Maldonado walked to lead off the sixth before the red hot Schwarz laced a single to center field on a hit-and-run play. Maldonado would get to third on the play. Hicks would then be the beneficiary of a fumbled ball when he hit a hard chopper to second that was bobbled and what could have been a double play ended up being an error and RBI scoring Maldonado.
With a 4-0 lead, Kowar finished the seventh inning and under 70 pitches. But Kowar would lead off the eighth by hitting catcher Austin Biggar sending him to first. Tucker Bradley would single to right field advancing Biggar followed by a double to center field by Cam Shepherd scoring both Biggar and Bradley.
That would be all for Kowar, who was credited with the win after throwing 7.0 innings and giving up just three hits, but 3 earned runs.
Freshman Garrett Milchin would relieve Kowar at that point and after a pop fly to the outfield, a wild pitch that advanced Shepherd to third, and a walk, O’Sullivan decided to go with left Nick Horvath to face Georgia left-hand batter L.J. Talley who pummeled Gator pitching all weekend. Horvath gave O’Sullivan just what he needed with a swinging strikeout.
It was then time for ace closer Michael Byrne. Byrne would give up a single to XXXX Maxwell scoring Shepherd and getting the Bulldogs within a run at 4-3. Guthrie would strike again form the field hauling in a line drive shot that went for out number three after being reviewed by the umpires to assure it was an out.
Byrne would give up a one out single to Biggar, but that would be all that the Bulldogs could muster in the ninth as the Gators completed the sweep.
Kowar would get the win and is now 7-0 on the season, tied for the most wins in the SEC at this juncture.
O’Sullivan was obviously happy after the contest.
“I’m really, really proud of the way we played this weekend. To start off, offensively J.J. Schwarz had a really good weekend, went 3-for-4 today. Nelly (Maldonado) has been having really good at bats for the last 3-4 weeks it seems like, got a couple knocks. I thought all-in-all, the lefty they threw out there, Smith, had a really good arm. He was up to 94. We could tell early on he was going to be a good challenge, especially for our left-handed hitters.
O’Sullivan was also happy with the pitching on the day.
“I think that’s the best Jackson has thrown all year long,” he said. “Obviously he didn’t want to hit the leadoff man in the eighth, but he had all three pitches working and kept his pitch count down. Garrett came in and got a big out against Curry with the fly ball, he got his sinker in there. Horvath went left-on-left and got the big strikeout and then Michael Byrne got his third save of the weekend.
O’Sullivan couldn’t help but beam about the play of Guthrie.
“He separates the game as well as anyone we’ve had,” he said of his junior shortstop. “We’ve had some really good players like that. You know Mike Zunino was like that too. When he was catching he was catching, when he was hitting he was hitting. He never took his bat out on defense and Dalton was outstanding. (Deacon) Liput made a nice play in the first inning and so our infield defense has been really, really good.
After an early season slump, Schwarz has seen his bat come alive. He hopes it continues, but O’Sullivan expected the bat to come around for the young man.
“That’s why I’ve never really moved him,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ve never been concerned about it. I know he hasn’t had quite the year he wanted to but you know what, the only thing people will remember is the finish. I am confident he’s going to finish strong.”
O’Sullivan is starting to see a sense of urgency from his team. Just a game behind SEC East leading Kentucky, the two teams face off to close the season. So everything they want to play for is still in front of them.
“This is one of those games where I told our players that if we want to get back into the hunt in the SEC race… I think we’re maybe a game back now,” he said. “I think going into the game we were maybe fifth in RPI… so we’re putting ourselves in position, but now we have to finish. We have three series left. Two of the three at home and obviously we go to Alabama.”
Florida plays two mid-week contests in Gainesville this week. Florida A&M (23-19) comes to town Tuesday night in a 6:30 p.m. contest. The Gators host Jacksonville University (25-17) on Wednesday and want to even up the series with the Dolphins after losing in Jacksonville earlier in the season.