Mace masters Crimson Tide, as Gators win 3-1

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Florida ace Tommy Mace. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent/File]

When Tommy Mace beaned the first batter in the ninth inning Friday, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan immediately headed for the mound.

Well, maybe not immediately.

O’Sullivan’s slow walk told Mace he had at least another batter.

“I was hoping he wasn’t coming to get me,” Mace said. “I mean, it wouldn’t have been too bad an idea. I drilled the guy. But when he was walking slowly I knew he was just trying to get the bullpen warmed up.”

Mace stayed in the game and finished off a gem of a pitching performance in throwing his first collegiate complete game in No. 23 Florida’s 3-1 win over Alabama at McKethan Stadium.

Mace (5-2) allowed only three hits and threw 119 pitches, striking out seven.

“I’ve got a herniated disc, that’s why I was walking slow,” O’Sullivan said. “Naw, I wasn’t going to take him out. I wanted him to know he didn’t need to make perfect pitches to finish the thing out. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing for eight innings.”

While Florida hardly knocked the cover off the ball with seven hits on a night when the wind blew in from left, Mace made it stand up in an important game for the Gators, who had lost the openers in each of their first two SEC series.

“It was an important game for us, let’s be honest,” O’Sullivan said. “You start out 1-6 and you’re in a hole. This was probably the most important game of the year for us.”

Florida is now 2-5 in SEC play and 18-10 overall. Alabama drops to 20-7 and 2-5.

Mace, a sophomore, has now gone into the seventh inning in six of his seven starts. He had a blister retaped after the seventh when O’Sullivan told him to “get six more outs.”

“I was a little surprised,” Mace said.

But he responded and Florida played one of its best defensive games of the year to secure the win.

“(Without the defense), I go six innings,” Mace said.

The two teams play again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday before finishing the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. Both games are on the SEC Network-Plus package.

Florida scored in the first without the benefit of a hit. Jacob Young walked, went to second on a ground out and stole third. He scored on a Nelson Maldonado groundout.

“We knew the first couple of weekends put us in a hole,” Young said. “We knew if we wanted to win the series and get back to where we can be we needed to win the first one.

“We’ve been playing from behind a lot lately. That was a good start to get one early.”

Alabama’s run to tie it came after Mace thought he was out of the inning. With runners on first and third, Kolby Robinson smashed one up the middle that Brady McConnell had to field on the dive. He flipped to second to end the inning.

But the video replay showed Joe Breaux was safe at second and Alabama was awarded a run.

The Gators knocked Alabama starter Sam Finnerty out of the game in the fifth. After only managing two singles in the first four innings, Florida ripped three straight line drives to start the inning. Maldonado’s single up the middle gave Florida the eventual winning run and a Kendrick Calilao grounder scored another. It was the team-leading 30th RBI for the freshman in 28 games.

Florida missed a chance to add insurance in the eighth with runners on first and third and one out. But Brady Smith and Young both took called third strikes to end the threat.

“We told the team we are going to keep coaching the way we’ve been coaching, but we have to eliminate the mistakes,” O’Sullivan said. “We did that.”

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