Kevin O’Sullivan pulled the right strings Saturday for Gators

Sometimes the weather is your friend and sometimes it gets in the way. That could have been the case Saturday when Florida and Wake Forest met for the first game of the Gainesville Super Regional. A three hour and 47 minute rain and lightning delay caused O’Sullivan to shuffle the pitching deck, and it may have worked out just fine.

Florida Gators (46-17) vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons (42-19)

Saturday June 11, 2017 (3:00 p.m.)

Gainesville, Florida; Alfred A McKethan Stadium

TV: ESPN or ESPN2

One thing we know, the Gators needed to win the game Saturday with the pitching issue handed to them. That they did, even if it tool 11 innings to do so.  It was a 2-1 victory with a walk-off single from senior Ryan Larson in his first game back since the second game of the SEC Tournament more than two weeks ago.

But, the bad weather, which popped up its ugly head after Alex Faedo got through his fourth inning of work , forced O’Sullivan o come up with a new plan on the mound. Having thrown 72 pitches and with too much time off between the storm, Alex Faedo wasn’t going to be able to return this day.

On the contrary, the storm hit McKethan Stadium in between innings and so Wake Forest starter Parker Dunshee had only thrown 45 pitches. Now every pitcher is different in terms of their ability to throw after a stint like that, even Faedo had to do the same after a 38 minute halt in action just a week earlier, but Dunshee would find his way back to the mound.

And both guys were throwing well at the time of the storm, Dunshee continued to throw well.

In a three game series that determines the rest of your season, a tough decision had to be made. With a 1-0 lead and hits coming few and far between, O’Sullivan believed he was going to have to go to his best option right now. He chose second day starter Brady Singer to come in and throw a few innings and set up the rest for closer Michael Byrne.

It appears it was a perfect move, even if Byrne went a little longer than he wanted when he came in for the ninth inning and had to go through the eleventh.

“We had a tough decision to make about who we were going to start after Alex [and the weather delay],” O’Sullivan would say shortly after the game. “I just had that feel that we were going to have a little trouble scoring runs… just a gut feel. We had the opportunity to move Jackson [Kowar] up one start and we can piece this thing together.”

Faedo closed his last inning in the fourth striking out the side and finished with nine strikeouts and a walk in 4.0 innings of work. Singer was equally as dominant running four innings and striking out eight with no earned runs.

Singer bounced back from his last two outings where he was hit hard and not effective. He was fiery on the mound, not unusual for him, but there was more to it on Saturday.

“I thought there were a lot of emotional pitches that Brady had to make,” O’Sullivan said.

Singer was prepared to do what he needed to do, but when the opportunity arose to come in during a tight game like this, he was begging to do it.

“Yeah, in my mind, I knew I wanted to go,” Singer said instead of starting on Sunday. “Sully came up to me and asked me and it was a definite yes. I was fortunate enough to get out there.”

Byrne would get the call in the ninth. He’s currently in the midst of a Gator record season with 16 saves and would have his chance to extend that record to 17 by throwing one complete inning of shutout ball. But that ended with the first batter he faced in the top of the ninth. With a 1-0 lead Demon Deacon catcher Ben Breazeale took a low and outside fastball and drove it over the left field wall, just a couple of feet inside the foul pole. That tied the game 1-1 and would inevitable force extra innings.

Not exactly what O’Sullivan wanted, but he wasn’t second guessing himself afterward.

 “We’ve gone to Michael Byrne the whole year in the ninth inning,” he said of his All-American sophomore. “That happens. Their kid put a good swing on a pitch, he earned it… went the opposite way.”

“I wouldn’t second-guess that decision at all because Michael has been the guy at the end of the game.”

Byrne would go ahead and face more adversity, loading the bases with two outs in the tenth inning, but would work his way out of it. Outside of one pitch, he did what he normally does… pitch to win.

“Just getting ahead and throwing strikes, getting ground balls or striking guys out,” the sophomore said who added six strikeouts to the tally of 23 which set a school record for one game. “(I did) whatever it took to get back in the dugout with zeroes.”

Maybe the best part of this story is that all three of these guys can likely pitch on Monday if the series gets to that point. If Florida wins Sunday, the series will be over and the Gators will head to Omaha and the College World Series. Kowar will start Sunday’s contest and is 12-0 on the season.

Byrne likely could throw Sunday after 53 pitches Saturday, but it seems that O’Sullivan would like to hold him off and hope Kowar can go as long as possible, willing to get the same trio back on the mound for Monday’s game.

“Brady can come back on Monday, Michael as well,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got some out of Alex too. We’ll see how (Sunday) goes.”


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