For the first time this season, the nation’s No. 1 baseball team finds itself confronted with some adversity. It has shown up in the form of a second consecutive loss on back-to-back nights to state rival Central Florida.
Maybe it’s actually a good thing, a needed thing. At least that’s Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s take on it.
“Quite honestly, things have been a little bit easy for us up to this point,” O’Sullivan said. “No one likes to lose, but to be honest with you, this is probably what this team needs.
“It needs a little motivation. Hopefully, this will motivate us to play a little better this weekend.”
On a cool Wednesday night at McKethan Stadium, the Gator bats turned cold, especially in the clutch in a 4-2 loss to the Knights before a crowd of 3,253.
The Gators (12-3) left nine runners on base and failed to take advantage of bases-loaded opportunities in both the fifth and eighth innings.
“We put ourselves in a position,” O’Sullivan said. “If we get one hit here, one hit there, who knows what could have happened?
“Credit Central Florida. They played good the last two night. It’s as simple as that.”
The Gators had a difficult time with five UCF pitchers, including starter Joe Sheridan, who usually is a weekend starter for the Knights. UF managed only four hits on the night, one an infield single in the first inning. One of the Gators’ two runs came on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth.
“All their pitchers did a really good job,” UF first baseman JJ Schwarz said. “Last night, we had the offense going and no pitching. Tonight, the pitching was good enough and the offense just wasn’t there.”
If there is such a thing as a good loss, this was one, O’Sullivan said.
It was a learning experience in a lot of ways, O’Sullivan said.
One is that it gave him a chance to see two of his promising true freshmen pitchers — starter Jordan Butler and reliever Tommy Mace — perform against a good team that improved to 10-3 on the season.
“We’ve learned a lot about our team the last two days,” O’Sullivan said. “We ran a bunch of freshmen out there on the mound. It just gives us a lot more to learn about our team.
“That’s really what you’re trying to do at this point, trying to figure out who can do what and who can handle certain situations.”
Butler and Mace both pitched well — but both also had one big mistake.
Butler gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Rylan Thomas in the first inning, while Mace gave up a solo two-out home run to Matthew Mika in the sixth. Those were enough runs to secure the win against a struggling UF team at the plate.
The Gators could not string together any hits and simply could not come up with a big hit when they really needed one.
O’Sullivan gave most of the credit to UCF’s pitchers, even though they did combine to walk nine batters.
“We’ve seen some really good arms the past couple of days,” O’Sullivan said. “I think that’s good for us. This team needs to be challenged. We saw some of their better arms.
“That’s good. It’s a good thing for us. We need to see better arms like that. It will help us become a better team.”
Note: Deacon Liput returned from a season-opening suspension and started at shortstop. He went 0-for-2 with two walks and played errorless ball on the field.