No. 2 Florida powers past Jacksonville, 10-3

Hunter McMullen made his first start for Florida on Wednesday against JU at McKethan Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

Florida’s No. 2-ranked baseball team couldn’t get anything going early Wednesday night, but when it did, the season’s home run barrage continued.

Wil Dalton, JJ Schwarz and Blake Reese all homered in consecutive innings, as Florida claimed a 10-3 win over Jacksonville at McKethan Stadium.

After hitting seven home runs in the SEC-opening series at South Carolina last weekend, Florida’s trio of home runs Wednesday gives the Gators 36 dingers just 23 games into the season. In comparison, it took the Gators 38 games in 2017 to reach 36 home runs, and UF hit just 53 home runs last season.

“You never know what to expect. Obviously we’ve got some guys who have some strength and put some good swings on some balls,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Tonight we felt like it would be one of those nights, the way the wind was blowing out of the game.”

The Gators, starting freshman right-hander Hunter McMullen on the mound, needed four innings to find the groove at the plate, all while McMullen held the Dolphins (13-9) scoreless despite allowing four hits in three innings of action. Schwarz’s sixth home run of the season opened the scoring in the fourth inning. Then, Nick Horvath continued his strong start to the season with an RBI single to left that scored Deacon Liput. Horvath’s 2-for-4 hitting performance increased his mark to 23 hits after recording just 17 hits in 2017. Liput, meanwhile, turned in a 4-for-4 performance at the plate to increase his batting average from .161 to .253.

“It was a good team win. It felt really good to help contribute to that,” Liput said. “Our pitchers did an outstanding job. It took us a little bit to get going, but once we did we did a good job of getting ahead and giving our pitchers some cushion.”

With no outs in the fifth, Dalton’s team-leading ninth home run of the season increased the lead to 3-0, and Liput’s sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 4-0 before Blake Reese’s two-run homer gave the Gators a commanding six-run lead before the inning was over.

“It’s been everything that I expected to do. I’m very confident in my ability. I had a big jump in power last year and I figured I would stick with it again this year,” Dalton said. “I am going to hit a couple out, but I’m still a guy who is going to hit for average. I try to stick with that, and lately it seems like every swing I’ve put on a ball it has gone out.”

The Dolphins put their three runs on the scoreboard in the seventh inning with freshman Tommy Mace pitching. Austin Langworthy’s bunt in the bottom half of the seventh brought in a pair of runs after a throwing error on Jacksonville third-basemen Sam Armstrong.

UF (19-4, 2-1 SEC) has had an impressive start at home this season: Florida’s win over the Dolphins gives the Gators a 14-1 record at McKethan Stadium to start the 2018 campaign.

Florida returns to McKethan Stadium on Friday for a tough SEC battle against the No. 4-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks, with the first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.

“Obviously offensively, they’re very talented,” O’Sullivan said of the Razorbacks. “They’ve got some young, really talented hitters in their line-up.

“It’s a deep line-up. We’re going to have to be our best on the mound. We feel like we’ve got a good line-up too, but the fact of the matter is this is two very similar teams, to be honest with you, that are both probably going to tell their teams that they’re going to have to play their best if they want to be successful. It’s really that simple.”