Florida sweeps past Vanderbilt

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Wil Dalton hit a two-run double and solo home run Sunday in the win over Vanderbilt at McKethan Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

Their paths to Gainesville were certainly different.

Freshman Jordan Butler was a highly recruited player who was on Team USA’s Under-18 team for two years. Florida kind of fell into lightly recruited sophomore Wil Dalton, a junior college player who UF assistant coach Craig Bell scouted when they traveled  to Nashville last year.

The two Gators played big roles in Florida’s Easter Sunday win over Vanderbilt as 3,736 watched at McKethan Stadium.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of history with Wil,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “We’d been watching Jordan since the ninth grade.”

Dalton had a two-run double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third as No.  2 Florida won 8-2 over the eighth-ranked Commodores.

Butler came into the game with the sacks full and got out of the jam, eventually extending his scoreless streak this season to 11⅓ innings and getting the win to go to 2-1.

It also finished up a strong week for Butler, who pitched 4⅓ innings of relief without allowing a hit.

“It was a little nerve-wracking early in the season when I had to do it,” Butler said. “I’ve kinda gotten used to it. It’s pretty natural now. It’s been fun. I’ve just been trusting my stuff.”

While the final score doesn’t show it, it was a key situation when Butler went in and Vandy (17-11, 5-4 SEC) threatening to get back into the game.

“I certainly didn’t want to take (starter Tyler Dyson) out of the game,” O’Sullivan said. “But they had two lefties coming up.”

Butler got out of the jam and pitched another scoreless inning before another freshman, Jack Leftwich, finished the game off with three scoreless innings.

It was another dominant performance for the Gators (25-5, 7-2), who have won six straight games against top-10 teams. O’Sullivan rewarded two of his players with lineup cards after the first two games of the series.

Maybe he should give one to himself.

After all, Vandy had gone 59 straight SEC series without being swept before Sunday. The last time it had happened was in 2012 … in Gainesville.

“We played at a high level this weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “I wish we were playing at this level at the end of the year. If we play like this at the end of the year, we have as good a chance as anybody. This is the type of level you have to play at in the postseason.”

Florida scored four in the first inning, two on Dalton’s double, and added his solo homer in the third. Jonathan India, who kept his hit streak alive at 15 games, hit a two-run homer in the fourth after the Gators had chased Vandy starter Mason Hickman (5-1).

Keenan Bell added his second homer in two days in the fifth. Florida has hit 46 homers this year after hitting 53 last season. Both India and Dalton — suddenly Florida’s version of the Bash brothers — have 11 homers.

“We have fun with it,” Dalton said. “Both of us kind of laugh about it because we’re not guys who came in here to hit home runs.

“Every time he hits one I say to myself that I gotta hit another one. I hit two and I tell him he needs to get hot again.”

The Gators face Florida Gulf Coast at home Tuesday before traveling to Tennessee for a weekend series.

“Sunday’s can be difficult,” Dalton said. “They can be trap games when you have the series won. Getting the four runs (in the first) showed we brought out the energy.”

And because it was a sweep, the Gators celebrated with the chant “Ruff-iiioooo” after the leader of the Lost Boys in the movie “Hook.”

“I have no idea where it comes from,” Dalton said. “I just go along with it.”

And while he would rather his team be playing like this in Omaha, O’Sullivan is going along with this hot streak. Florida has outscored top-10 teams 49-14 during their six-game streak.

And with No. 1 Oregon State losing its series over the weekend, the Gators are likely to be No. 1 again when the new poll comes out.

Most importantly, it was a major step forward in league play. Florida is now tied for the lead in the SEC with Georgia at 7-2.

“Jumping out early says a lot about our team and its maturity,” O’Sullivan said. “We talked about it yesterday that if you want to win the league, it comes down one game.”

 

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