Gators survive Marist 10-6 to win NCAA opener

The Florida Gators (43-16) got more than they wanted from Marist (32-22) in the first game of the Gainesville Regional on Friday, but survived the pesky Red Foxes to win 10-6 and advance to the winner’s bracket against USF.

The Gators scored in many different ways, including a three RBI home run by junior J.J. Schwarz in the bottom of the eighth to give the insurance needed to finish off the contest.

It was a sloppy game in part from the game played on a wet field from a deluge earlier in the day, but there were other miscues as well some form hard play and others just mistakes. Florida finished with a rare three errors while Marist finished with two and all were costly.

Maris, who came into the contest as the fourth sees in the Gainesville Regional, got on the board first in the top of the second inning. Tyler Kapuscinski singled to Jonathan India who misfired on the throw to first and allowed Kapuscinski to get second on the error. Matt Iantosca then singled to right advancing Kapuscinski. Matt Pagano followed with a single to center scoring Kapuscinski.

The Gators would answer back in a big way in the bottom of the second with four runs. Sophomore Nelson Maldonado led off the second with a walk. Freshman Austin Langworthy benefited from a fielding error by the shortstop as well and reached first, while Maldonado advanced to second. Junior Christian Hicks landed a perfect bunt down third base line loading the bases with no outs.  Junior Mike Rivera sent a fast grounder up the middle scoring both Maldonado and Langworthy.  Sophomore Deacon Liput did his job and sacrificed both runners into scoring position with a bunt down the third base line. Nick Horvath then hit a laser shot to left field scoring Hicks. Jonathan India then flied out to left field to score Rivera for the final run of the inning and a 4-1 score.

Sophomore starting pitcher Jackson Kowar would put two runners on in each of the first three innings, but more often than not fight his way out of it. Meanwhile, the Gators would add another run in the third. Maldonado would reach on a one-out walk. Langworthy walked moving Maldonado to second. Maldonado steals third on a wild pitch. Hicks then walked to load the bases. Mike Rivera landed his third RBI in the first three innings when he flied out to the warning track in center to score Maldonado and the Gators led 5-1.

The Red Foxes started a comeback in the fourth by adding three runs. Aided by an error from shortstop Dalton Guthrie and Kowar, Marist would get within one run at 5-4 with all of the action in the fourth.

Florida got one back in the fourth with some more sloppy defense. Horvath was hit by a pitch to start the inning. After taking off for second and getting caught in a rundown, the shortstop’s throw went into the dugout allowing Horvath to head to third. India followed with a RBI single to left field to bring home Horvath to make the score 6-4 and give the Gators a two run lead.

The sloppiness continued in the fifth as Hicks singled and came around to score on three wild pitches from Marist reliever John Parisi to give UF a 7-4 lead.

Marist just wouldn’t go away. After the first out in the sixth inning, Lazar would single to center field. That would be it for Kowar who was lifted for senior Frank Rubio. Rubio gave up a double to Kirkpatrick and then Randy Taveras lined a two-run single to center to make it 7-6.

Rubio would finish the inning without any more damage and then after one out in the seventh, he was pulled for sophomore closer Michael Byrne with eight outs remaining in the contest. He would get the last two outs in the seventh and allow one single by the end of the game finishing with his extended school record 15th save of the season.

Byrne was aided in the bottom of the eighth with a smash shot home run by Schwarz driving in Horvath and Guthrie on the play.  Schwarz struggled on the night up to that point.

“I knew my first few at bats of the game weren’t my best at bats,” he said. “I stepped in the box and had a lot of confidence in myself. I knew I was going to put that behind me and I was trying to come up big for my teammates, not necessarily trying to hit a three-run homer, just trying to get some RBIs and score some guys. He fell behind and he grooved one for me and I put a good swing on it.”

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was asked about bringing in Byrne so early given that he will be needed the rest of the weekend.

“There was no choice,” he said. “The game was on the line at that point. They built up some momentum in their dugout. It worked out perfectly. Ideally we did not want to bring him in in the seventh, but he threw 25 pitches and was very efficient.”

O’Sullivan said that the low pitch count, even with throwing 2.2 innings, will allow Byrne to pitch again on Saturday if needed.

Byrne has been a huge and pleasant surprise for O’Sullivan this season.

“He throws strikes,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s like a starter that for the most part needs to get three or four outs in a game. He can throw all three pitches for strikes, the ball is down and it’s located. He’s had a remarkable year for us. There have been a lot of really good closers that have come through this program. I think that was his 15th save, and he didn’t even start the season as our closer. The team has a lot of confidence in him. He is probably the main reason we’ve won [17] one-run games.”

It was almost as if Byrne was pitching Friday night in a way to allow him to pitch Saturday.

“I was executing my slider, throwing fastballs for strikes and getting ahead of the hitters like always,” Byrne said. “It was just good to get in front of the guys and keep the pitch count low.”

Rivera was big, on just his fourth game back from the injured list, he provided three crucial RBI early in the contest.

“It feels good. I was just trying to keep it simple and not try to do too much,” Rivera said. “I’ve been working on my hand and trying to keep the soreness down, but I know I’m going to be sore for a little longer. I’m taking it day-by-day.”

It wasn’t easy but the Gators got the win they needed. Now they face Regional 2-seed USF on Saturday and will bring Friday ace Alex Faedo to the mound.

“I thought Marist played very well tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought that they jumped some good fastballs from Jackson and they got into some advantage counts and did a nice job and kept the game close. Tip your caps to Marist.

“We’re excited we’re 1-0 and looking forward to tomorrow and getting Alex [Faedo] back out on the mound. We’ll see what happens.”

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