By Aaron Brand, Staff writer
Making his first career start against FAU, Florida freshman Jack Leftwich didn’t let the nerves get to him Tuesday.
After giving up a leadoff single, the righty settled down to retire the next 13 he faced, as his teammates provided enough offense to beat the Owls 6-1 in UF’s first midweek game of the season at McKethan Stadium.
The top-ranked Gators (4-0) were aggressive on the base paths, sometimes to their own detriment, in building an early lead. After third baseman Jonathan India walked to lead off the second, he stole second, where an RBI single by right fielder Wil Dalton drove him home for the game’s first run.
Dalton finished 2-for-2 with three RBIs. He’s now batting .429 with a team-high seven RBIs in four games.
“I just try come in here every day and it’s helped a lot. The coaches have helped a lot,” Dalton said. “Just sticking to approach and truly trusting it.”
In the third, Austin Langworthy drove a ball just over second baseman Eric Rivera’s glove, where it was cut off in right center, but the hustling left fielder from Williston legged out a double. After a lengthy at-bat, designated hitter Nelson Maldonado scorched a liner into left, scoring Langworthy after Diamond Johnson’s throw was up the line.
While some of UF’s aggressiveness was just how the game played out, some was also by design.
“These midweek games, you kind of lull yourself to sleep,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said “So it’s almost as if we try to force the action a bit more. We ran the bases, put a couple hit-and-runs on, that type of thing.”
UF tacked on two more runs in the fourth on India’s second home run of the season, and on a throwing error on a fielder’s choice.
After Florida had built a 4-0 lead, O’Sullivan gave Leftwich the early hook to preserve his innings. The righty earned the win, despite throwing just 4 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, one walk and one earned run with five strikeouts of the Owls (3-1).
“I wasn’t really trying to overthink it,” Leftwich said. “I was just trying to attack the zone, even with two strikes.”
O’Sullivan noted that he only pulled Leftwich in case they need to use him this weekend against Miami.
“That’s about as good a start for a freshman that we’ve had,” O’Sullivan said. “His stuff was crisp, he’s got a great arm, he’s got a great future.”
Another freshman, lefty Jordan Butler, will start for the Gators when they face Bethune-Cookman at 6 p.m. Wednesday at McKethan Stadium.