Gators beat Ole Miss 7-4 to clinch series

The Florida Gators (34-13, 15-8 SEC) relied on a pair of three-run innings and a gutsy effort from starter Brady Singer to beat Ole Miss 7-4 and clinch the weekend series with the Rebels. In doing so, the Gators were able to keep pace with Kentucky in the SEC East (15-8 SEC) and Mississippi State (16-8 SEC), the conference leader as of Saturday night.

The Rebels (29-19, 11-12 SEC) grabbed a 4-0 lead early landing two runs in the first, and one in each of the second and fourth innings. The talented sophomore right-hander stayed with it and battled through however, finishing off seven innings and not giving Ole Miss much past the fourth inning.

“I thought Brady hung in there,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the contest. “I thought he made a couple of mistakes. He made the one mistake in the first. He was trying to go away and then he missed over the plate. He was one pitch from getting out of that inning there with no runs. Then he hung a slider to Crae Kessinger for the sac fly, but other than that he threw the ball very well.”

“He was obviously frustrated over a couple of pitches, but he threw a hundred and probably just wants a couple back. That’s just part of the game. I’m really proud of the way he hung in there because it can be tough. He’s not used to being hit around and making mistakes. He expects a lot out of himself and rightfully so. The line score may not show that this was his best game pitched, but I think mentally it might have been his best game pitched this year. He kept us in the ball game and gave us a chance to creep back into it.”

Florida started the game getting people on base but kept failing to bring them home. The Gators stranded eight runners through the first four innings of the contest, but finally plated three runs in the fifth to get within striking distance and maybe give Singer a little extra to get through the bind he was in.

In the fifth, the Gators loaded the bases when junior Mark Kolozsvary led off with a single, followed by a single from senior Ryan Larson and a walk by junior Dalton Guthrie. After a fielder’s choice brought Kolozsvary across, the Rebels went to the bullpen to relieve starter Ryan Rolison. Hot hitting junior J.J. Schwarz drilled a two RBI double to left-center, getting the Gators within a run at 4-3.

Singer would finish the seventh inning still trailing 4-3 when the Gators struck again. On a tear as the regular season comes to an end, Schwarz singled to center, and sophomore Nelson Maldonado walked advancing Schwarz to second. Sophomore Jonathan India hit singled up the middle on Rebel’s regular closer Dallas Woolfolk to tie the game up 4-4.

Junior lefty Nick Horvath would start the eighth inning for the Gators and face the minimum three batters while the bats struck again in the eighth. With two outs in the inning, Guthrie singled and freshman Austin Langworthy drew a walk. It was time for Schwarz to do his thing again. After four foul balls and nine total pitches, Schwarz surgically placed a single into right field scoring Guthrie on the play and giving the Gators a 54 lead.

Schwarz then tried to draw the attention of the pitcher and get in a pickle on his way to second to get Langworthy home, but the Ole Miss defense gave him the stolen base, putting two runs in scoring position and Maldonado back up to bat.  The sophomore right fielder then singled to center scoring the final runs of the game.

“I think all four of our runs in the seventh and eighth all came with two outs,” O’Sullivan said. “We talked about that yesterday. In years’ past when we’ve been really good offensively, we’ve been good with two strikes and two outs.

“I think the first and third play ended up being a big play when we put the first and third play on with J.J. went to second there. Nelly put a fast ball back up the middle and that gave us the extra cushion.

“They used their closer there for 42 pitches, and boy he’s got a great arm, you know 96-97. The freshman they started Rolison is going to be very good in this league. Feigl and Ethridge they brought in the middle were 92-93, so we’re swinging the bats good against some really good pitching.”

Sophomore closer Michael Byrne would come on to finish the contest and face the minimum three batters in the ninth as the Gators posted the 7-4 win.

The Gators stranded 10 base runners in the contest, but hit well, recording 13 hits in the contest with the two crooked-number innings. Schwarz finished the game 3 for 4 with two runs, three RBI, and a walk. Kolozsvary also finished with three hits and a run, while India and junior Christian Hicks notched two hits apiece.

“We got a lot of production from a lot of different people,” O’Sullivan said. “Seven of the nine guys got hits again. J.J. is starting to get hot. He got the big hit there to right field to put us ahead.  Mark Kolozsvary had a nice night at the plate. It’s good to have India back. He had a couple of hits. Hicks got a couple of hits.

“Michael Byrne continues to save games for us. Other than that, we’re just playing well.”

After a very slow start to the season that had Schwarz moving all over the lineup, the junior has been on a 12 game tear, hitting the ball consistently, and especially with runners in scoring position.

“I said since day one… we’re not going to get to where we want to get to or have a chance to win a national championship without him. He’s always hit and sometimes it can be a cruel game. It can be a really difficult game to deal with. But, he’s seeing the ball well now, he’s smiling, he’s happy… we all are. We’re in a good position. Maybe a month and a half, two months ago, it was a different team. That’s why it’s a long season.

The Gators will close the series Sunday at 2 p.m. and look to sweep and stay in the chase for conference and division titles.

“Tomorrow’s a big game. It’s one of those… it would be nice to be tied for first place with six to go,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll see. The players have to come tomorrow and it has to be the best focus we’ve had all year long… the best energy. This is the part of the season that’s fun. Let’s enjoy it and let’s see if we can play some of our best baseball tomorrow and down the stretch.

“I talked to the team here. If you want to sweep somebody, if you want to get a ring and that’s always been our first goal, to win an SEC Championship every year. If we win tomorrow, we’re tied for first with six to go, and I think that’s all we can ask for.  We fell behind 4-0 and just stayed with it, and that’s the sign of a good team.”

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