The game was marred by a couple of injuries to two different Gator center fielders. Ryan Larson took a fast ball to the head as the first batter of the game and his jaw / neck area was struck hard pulling him from the contest. Nick Horvath replaced Larson and on a bouncing ball in the outfield was struck in the face cutting the inside of his lip and bleeding feverishly. He would not return.
But injuries weren’t the only crazy thing about this game.
Mississippi State starter Cole Gordon stymied the Gators through seven innings allowing just three hits and no runs. Meanwhile the Bulldogs plated a run off of Florida starter Jackson Kowar in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings to lead 3-0 heading into the eight inning.
Florida junior infielder Christian Hicks led off the eighth with a single to right field and a tiring Gordon was pulled for ace reliever Spencer price. Price lasted just seven pitches as he walked junior DH Mike Rivera and threw two balls to freshman Garrett Milchin. Another top reliever for the Billdogs in Riley Self then appeared on the mound and struck out Milchin.
A single by Blake Reese and then an RBI single by sophomore Deacon Liput put the Gators on the board and the score was 3-1. A wild pitch scored junior Mike Rivera to make it 3-2. Junior J.J. Schwarz was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Still in the eighth and with two outs, sophomore Jonathan India walked on an 8-pitch at-bat, bringing home Blake Reese, and tying the game 3-3.
The Gators just kept going in the inning.
Austin Langworthy singled to left field scoring both India and a motoring Schwarz, Langworthy would get second on the play with the throw to home. With the score 5-3, we had another pitching change for MSU but it was all for not. New pitcher trey Jolly walked freshman Hicks who led off the inning with a single. With the bases loaded again, Rivera walked for the second time in the game making it 6-3.
MSU sent the fifth pitcher of the inning in Jacob Barton and Milchin would botch a two RBI single to right field making the score 8-3. Austin Bodrato would pinch run for Milchin and promptly steal second, but Barton would walk Reese loading the bases yet again.
Barton would last one more batter as Liput deposited a shot to left-center field to the wall for a 3 RBI double and clearing the bases for an 11-3 lead. Andrew Mahoney was inserted and finally stopped the bleeding getting Schwarz to fly out to center for the final out.
“As a team it shows a lot about our character,” said Liput after the game about coming back from the 0-3 deficit. “We came into the eighth inning and we had six outs to work with, so we stuck to our approach and didn’t try to do too much.”
Kowar (11-0) would get the win and not have to come out for the eighth inning. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan would go with freshman Tyler Dyson in relief of Kowar in the eighth with such a big lead. Dyson would quickly load the bases with a couple of singles allowed and a walk before being pulled for Gator closer Michael Byrne.
With an 8 run lead, Byrne went to the plate just trying to get the batters out and did just that. He struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth in a masterful display of pitching and the Gators won the inning 11-0.
Florida would add another run in the ninth. A couple of walks by India and Langworthy followed by a single to left by Hicks loaded the bases one more time. The last RBI came via the bat of Rivera who lofted one to center field scoring India for the final score (12-3) of the game.
Byrne would get a fly ball out to start the ninth before O’Sullivan would make the move to senior Frank Rubio and save Byrne’s arm for more of the tournament. Rubio finished things off giving up only a two-out single.
It took a long time for the Gator bats to come alive, but the pitching was there as usual to wait things out.
“It was a crazy game,” O’Sullivan said following the matchup. “I haven’t checked on Ryan Larson yet, but I hope everything is ok. As far as the game is concerned, I thought Jackson threw the ball well and kept us in the ball game. He gave up two runs over seven.
“He did a really nice job over the top half of their order and gave us a chance. Michael (Byrne) came in with the bases loaded and did a nice job slowing them down. Their starter did a good job against our hitters and was hitting his spots. He didn’t walk anybody and kept us on our heels.
The seven innings was the longest outing for MSU’s Cole in his career besting a previous four. He was getting tired and the Bulldog staff felt they had to make a change and went to seasoned closers, but the Gators stayed in the game.
“All of a sudden Christian (Hicks) gets a line drive hit in the eighth, and then they went to the bullpen and things kind of opened up,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a good lesson to learn for our team: no matter what happens, as long as we have a chance to swing the bats, we get 27 outs to work with and anything can happen and today was one of those days.”
The surprise to start the game was Kowar as the starter. Brady Singer was expected, but getting Kowar in this early allows O’Sullivan to change up the rotation again next weekend in the NCAA Regional if he feels it would help.
“It gives us an option,” he said. “We haven’t set our rotation yet, but we have an option to start Jackson if we need to in the regional. I thought it would be good for Jackson to pitch against a good Mississippi State team and the best hitter in the conference, if not the country. Not many people hold (Brent) Rooker hitless, so great job by Jackson today as far as that is concerned.”
Rooker went 0-5 in the contest and most of that was at the hand of Kowar. Precision placement was key and he found a way to get it done against the SEC’s best.
“With him you have to have command of good pitches if you’re going against him multiple times,” Kowar said. “I knew going into the game I was going to have to be able to locate my fastball to both sides of the plate against him, which I was able to do. I have a third pitch change up, and that is something that I don’t think he sees too much, so having command of that was big.”