Wil Dalton might not have been a hero on a night like this a year ago. Or a couple of months ago.
But he was Friday night.
The sophomore drilled a two-run double in the eighth inning to give No. 1 Florida a 3-1 win over Missouri in the first game of their three-game series.
A crowd of 6,214 — the second largest in the history of McKethan Stadium — booed when red-hot Jonathan India was intentionally walked ahead of Dalton, but was wildly cheering four pitches later.
“I told (India) I needed one more at-bat,” Dalton said. “Last year (in junior college), I don’t get that hit. I beat myself up. I’ve matured so much, even during this season. I stood in there and cleared my head and told myself, ‘You have one more chance to do this.’ “
Florida (30-6, 10-3 in the SEC) also got some stellar pitching, first from starter Brady Singer and then from relievers Jordan Butler and Michael Byrne. The three pitchers combined to allow only two hits to a Missouri team that was playing without its top hitter in injured Kameron Misner.
Butler, a freshman, got the win and is now 4-1 on the season.
“I thought the ball came out of his hand as good as it has all season,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Byrne pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his ninth save of the season.
Both teams scored in the first in about the most opposite ways possible.
Missouri (24-10, 6-7) drew a pair of walks against Singer to start the game and a sacrifice moved them over. Brett Bond’s ground out brought home Cade Bomet with the only run Missouri would score.
Florida countered with Nelson Maldonado’s fifth homer of the year, this one to the opposite field. It was Florida’s 54th homer of the year, one more than it had last season.
Singer settled down and didn’t give up a hit until the fourth. He also had a ball deflect of his glove for an error in the inning before getting out of a first-and-third situation.
“It was definitely a grind out there the whole game,” Singer said.
He left after throwing 112 pitches and O’Sullivan checking with Singer after the sixth to see if he wanted “one more” inning.
“For him to go seven innings really saved our bullpen,” O’Sullivan said.
With the game still tied in the eighth, Brady Smith led off the inning with a sharp single to left. Florida then went to a rare sacrifice bunt (its fifth of the season) to move the runner over and reliever Andy Toelken from nearby Clay High and St. Johns River Community College came in and got an infield out.
But after a ball to India, who earlier in the game extended his hitting streak to 21 games, Missouri decided to walk the Florida batter and face Dalton.
“I tried to calm myself down because obviously it does piss you off,” Walton said. “It is kind of an insult, but (India’s) the best hitter in the country. It’ll probably happen more.”
Dalton ripped a 1-2 pitch off the wall to score both Smith and India and take the team lead in RBI with 33. Dalton now has 23 extra base hits out of 41 total hits.
“I just told myself to stick my head where it needs to be and that’s on the baseball,” Dalton said.
The two teams play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 4 p.m. after Sunday’s game was moved up because of the threat of inclement weather.
Who: Missouri at Florida
When: Series Game 2 at 4 p.m., Game 3 45 minutes following first game
Online: SEC Network+, which can be found on WatchESPN.com
First game starting pitchers: Mizzou LHP Michael Plassmeyer (4-0, 1.99 ERA) vs. UF RHP Jackson Kowar (5-1, 2.72)
Second game starting pitchers: Mizzou RHP Bryce Montes De Oca (4-2, 2.64 ERA) vs. UF RHP Tyler Dyson (4-2, 3.48)