Top-ranked Gators rally to beat No. 16 Bulldogs, 7-6

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Florida's Wil Dalton (16) is mobbed by teammates Friday after his fly ball to center field drove in the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth against Georgia at McKethan Stadium. The Gators beat the Bulldogs 7-6 in Game 1 of the three game weekend series. [Cyndi Chambers/ Correspondent]

For the enthusiastic Gator fans who celebrated with full volume after their team’s walk-off 7-6 win over Georgia on Friday night, don’t try to dissect it.
Just know this — Florida continues to show the resilience of a champion.
The No. 1-ranked Gators came from behind twice, scoring two runs in the ninth to take another step toward a 15th SEC title.
And the game-winner came on a play that was almost as flawed as the entire night.
Wil Dalton hit a deep fly ball with the bases loaded and immediately raised his fist knowing the game was over. He almost passed Jonathan India in the process, which would have meant extra innings.
But center fielder Tucker Maxwell dropped the ball anyway, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
Don’t think too much about it unless you want a headache.
“In a walk-off win, you certainly don’t want to dampen the mood,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “But at the same time this team’s got a chance to do some things in the postseason and have a special season, but if we make those types of mistakes, they’ll come back to haunt you.
“It was a great win for the team, but at the same token we’ve got to improve from some of the mistakes.”
Oh, there were plenty. But before the story lead gets buried, know that Florida’s magic number for clinching at least a tie for the SEC title is one. The two teams play again at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Gators fell behind first after Georgia scored four unearned runs on a very earned grand slam. They fell behind in the ninth when closer Michael Byrne and catcher JJ Schwarz got mixed up on a sign that led to a passed ball.
But for a team that rallied from six down Tuesday, a one-run deficit was nothing.
“So what. It’s over,” said Dalton. “I mean as soon as that ball hits the backstop there’s nothing you can do from stopping that run from going home.
“There’s nothing you can do to get that run back. It’s over. So what.”
The Gators (40-11, 19-6) also made a pair of base-running mistakes as a crowd of 5,279 watched. Byrne got the win to go to 2-0 on the year.
Georgia, ranked 16th, fell to 34-15 and 15-10.
“There’s been a bull’s-eye on this team all year long,” O’Sullivan said. “I know we’re 40-11 and leading the league right now, but every time you take the field you’re getting everybody’s best effort and that can be a grind
in itself.
“These players know what’s expected of them. You start hearing ‘National Championship or bust’ and I think that’s unrealistic. I think this team has handled it really well this year.”
Florida was sailing along heading into the top of the sixth, up 3-0 and ace Brady Singer allowing only three hits. But the first two runners reached and a walk later loaded the bases with one out.
Cam Sheppard hit a routine grounder to Keenan Bell at first and he fielded it after knocking it down. But while running to the bag for the second out, Bell simply dropped the ball.
Georgia would have scored a run anyway on the play, but when the next batter popped out, it should have been the end of the inning.
Instead, Georgia’s LJ Talley launched a grand slam into the trees well beyond the right field fence.
The Gators had taken the lead in the third on a two-out single up the middle by Nelson Maldonado. Schwarz hit a monsterous solo homer in the fourth, his 11th of the season, to make it 3-0 Florida.
Schwarz also knocked in a pair of runs with a double in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game. He is now 18-for-40 in his last 11 games.
After Georgia took the lead in the top of the ninth, Bell led off the bottom of the ninth with a sharp single to right on a 3-2 pitch.
“It’s funny how the game always finds you,” O’Sullivan said of Bell.
Nick Horvath followed with a single to left. Deacon Liput was hit by pitch while attempting to bunt and Nelson Maldonado tied the game with a fly ball to center.
After Jonathan India fouled off the first pitch, Georgia chose to walk him to load the bases.
“No surprise,” Dalton said. “He’s the best hitter in America.”
After three straight balls and a strike down the middle, Dalton delivered the game-winner.
“When I hit it, I said, ‘That’s deep enough,’ ” Dalton said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew that was the game.”


Saturday

Who: No. 16 Georgia vs. No. 1 Florida

When: 1 p.m.

Where: McKethan Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM


4 COMMENTS

  1. Go Gators! Great comeback for the bats again. Lock it up tomorrow! And Pat, thanks for using the word “resilience” instead of the trendy, but redundant, “resiliency”.

  2. I watch every UF baseball game that I can find time to. This was as good a Comeback win as I have seen lately, and this win showed great fortitude to stay focused even with the loss pending and errors all over the place. This team just knows how to win, and mainly, they have the talent to overcome some mistakes and beat other good teams.

    Go Gators!

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