Gators clinch series with Alabama, lead SEC

Three crooked-number innings were big for the Florida Gators (37-14, 18-8 SEC) Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as they clinched the series with Alabama (19-31, 5-21 SEC) with a 13-6 victory.  The Gators tallied 16 hits as they scored four runs in the third inning, four in the seventh and three more in the eighth to secure the win.

The Gators continue their SEC winning streak having won nine conference games in a row and the last five series they have played in conference going 12–of-14 in the last five series and looking to close out the series with Alabama on Sunday.

The Gators notched seven doubles on the night starting in the first inning when sophomore Dalton Guthrie hit a two base smack to left-center. Guthrie would score the Gators only run in the inning when freshman Austin Langworthy hit a high chopper out of the reach of Alabama’s first baseman for an RBI single.

Alabama would strike back quickly, notching three earned runs in the bottom of the first off sophomore starter Brady Singer who gave up three singles and a wild pitch that allowed the Crimson Tide to take the 3-1 lead.

A scoreless second inning led to a big one for the Gators in the third. A lead-off walk by Guthrie was followed by a junior J.J. Schwarz double to right-center field. The hot-hitting Schwarz was backed by an equally hot-hitting sophomore Nelson Maldonado who ripped off a double over center field and to the fence scoring both Guthrie and Schwarz. After Maldonado advanced to third on an infield ground out, sophomore Jonathan India sacrificed Maldonado home with a long fly ball to center field. With two outs, junior Christian Hicks walked and junior Mark Kolozsvary doubled to drive home Hicks and give the Gators four runs in the inning and a 5-3 lead.

Singer held Alabama scoreless in the bottom of the third and both teams stayed off the scoreboard in the fourth.

The fifth inning saw another Gator cross the plate when Kolozsvary notched a two out walk followed by sophomore Deacon Liput’s single up the middle that pushed Kolozsvary to third. Kolozsvary would score when senior Ryan Larson doubled to the left field wall.  The inning would end on the same play as Liput was gunned down at home trying to score on Larson’s big hit.

The Gator bats were quiet in the sixth, but Alabama would put a scare in Florida in the bottom half of the inning. After allowing a couple of walks and a couple of doubles, Singer found himself and the gators clinging to a 6-5 lead with no outs and two runners in scoring position. A strike out and a ground out led to a controversial hit-by-pitch that loaded the bases. After a long verbal confrontation between Singer, O’Sullivan, and various umpires, Singer had to compose himself again. After a full count, he struck out Chandler Avant to end the sixth. It was the 10th strike out of the game for Singer and the last batter he would face on the night in a situation that was as tough as any a pitcher will face in a season.

“I’ll tell you what, he was put into a very difficult situation there in the sixth with the hit-by-pitch,” said O’Sullivan who came screaming out of the dugout to argue the call at the time. “He had their leadoff hitter Avant in a 3-0 count and he buckled down and that saved the game for us because he came back and struck him out from a 3-0 count. The line may not be as pretty as he wants, but he battled and he got the big strikeout with the bases loaded there. He pitched really efficiently in the fourth and fifth to get his pitch count back to where it needed to be.

The Gators would score seven in the next two innings. Back-to-back singles from freshman Austin Langworthy and India led off the seventh. A wild pitch advanced both to scoring position. Kolozsvary struck again with a single to bring home Langworthy. Liput dropped a safety squeeze getting India home and advancing Kolozsvary. A pair of walks loaded the bases for Schwarz to strike again with a single to left that scored two more and the Gators a 10-5 lead.

Alabama would get one run back in the seventh. With Nick Horvath subbing for Singer on the mound, Cody Henry reached first on a rare error by Liput.  It was the Gators’ second baseman’s first miscue of the season. Henry would work his way around the bases on a wild pitch and a ground out, before being sacrificed home.

That would be it for the scoring for the Crimson Tide, but the Gators would pile on three more in the eighth. Langworthy and Hicks both singled in the inning. Kolozsvary got on base again with a walk. Then Larson continued on his torrid pace at the plate and netted three RBI with a double to left-center to complete the scoring in the contest.

Horvath would strike out the leadoff hitter in the ninth before giving way to senior Frank Rubio who gave up a single and was victimized by an error on shortstop Guthrie, before retiring the last two betters and complete the 13-6 win.

O’Sullivan was pleased with the offensive output which included 16 hits and 10 walks.

“It was a really good offensive night for us,” he said. “Larson had a couple of big doubles there, Guthrie reached base I think five of his six at bats. J.J. continues to swing the bat really well and got a couple hits. Langworthy got three hits, good to see him going again. Kolo reached base every at bat tonight. It was just a really good night offensively. And Hicks has got a nine-game hitting streak, all-in-all it was a really good offensive night for us.

On paper it was Singer’s worst game of the season, but O’Sullivan was extremely pleased with the way he battled and showed enough trust in the young man not to pull him early.

“The thing with Brady giving up three in the first, I think he was having a little bit of trouble with the mound,” O’Sullivan said. “But he hung in there. I think his pitch count after three innings was at 58 and he had a seven-pitch fourth inning I believe and got himself right back into his pitch count.

“Then Nick came in and did a really nice job. It was good to get Rubio, one of our seniors, on the mound there in the ninth. The last away series in his career and I wanted to make sure he touched the mound.”

With the win, the Gators find themselves in sole possession of first in the SEC. A win on Sunday and the Gators will remain at least a game ahead of LSU (18-9), Mississippi State (17-9), and Kentucky (17-9) in conference play and no worse than a tie of they lose on Sunday.

“It was a good night,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, we’ve got to finish it off tomorrow. I think we’re in first place by ourselves now, so it’s fun to be a part of a race like this. That’s all you can ask for at this time of the season. We’ve got four games left and have to take them one at a time and we’re in the thick of things. The guys are having fun and playing loose, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

Looking for their 10th straight conference win the game on Sunday will start at 4 p.m. ET and air on the SEC Network. The Gators close out their regular season with a three-game series next week against Kentucky. 

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