Special to Gatorsports.com
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s young baseball team has had its troubles with SEC competition so far this season.
However, the Gators, despite that youth, know how to beat the Florida State Seminoles.
Kirby McMullen’s two-run double in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday helped lift the Gators to a 3-1 win over the Seminoles, their 11th consecutive victory in the series and 16th in the last 17. FSU coach Mike Martin ends his career with a losing record (76-77) against the Gators.
“It’s one of those nights,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’ve been thinking about this night for a long time, being the last time we get a chance to compete against Coach Martin. I’m obviously really excited we played better tonight, number one, but all the games we’ve competed against Florida State over the years have been extra special and this has really been special tonight for a lot of different reasons.
“As far as the game is concerned, I thought David (Luethje) gave us a nice start and he threw the ball across the plate for the most part. We got a couple outs there in the middle of the game with (Justin) Alintoff and that was probably the best Ben Specht has looked all year long. He didn’t get a chance to pitch at Ole Miss so I knew he was going to have to come in and throw some quality strikes at some point. I think he grew up a lot tonight.”
Florida (22-13) took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning without the benefit of a hit. Brady McConnell hit a ball to deep center that the outfielder dropped for a two-base error. McConnell moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jacob Young and scored on a passed ball.
FSU (19-13) tied it in the fifth on a couple hits and a RBI groundout from Alec Sanchez.
The Gators threatened in the eighth, getting the first two batters on, but a failed sac bunt and two groundouts ended the inning without any runs.
In the ninth, Kendrick Calilao hit a double and FSU intentionally walked Wil Dalton with two outs. O’Sullivan called upon pinch-hitter Kirby McMullen, who delivered a double into the right field corner to score both runners for a 3-1 lead before 5,368 fans at Dick Howser Stadium.
Specht (2-0) pitched the final three innings to earn the win, allowing just one hit and striking out five, including the first two FSU batters in the ninth. In two relief appearances against FSU, Specht has totaled five innings pitched with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Luethje allowed one run and five hits over four innings while Alintoff pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, setting the stage for Specht.
“I thought for the most part we played pretty good defense,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, the big at-bat tonight was Kirby McMullen. I think that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why we’re so excited we won, because everybody pulls for Kirby. He always does everything he can to help the other guys be successful on the bench and he’s always in the game whether he has a chance to play or not. He’s one of the most liked guys in the locker room. For him to come up and get a big hit like that in the eighth inning was obviously huge.
“We needed to play a little bit better. I don’t ever remember playing as poorly as we did at Ole Miss. We needed to play better and we did tonight.”
The Gators (4-8 in the SEC) host South Carolina (20-13, 3-9) for a three-game series starting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU). Friday’s game is at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday’s finale starts at 3:30 p.m.