By Garry Smits, GateHouse Media Services
JACKSONVILLE — The Florida Gators still remember how to scratch out victories in one-run games, a familiar script in the 2017 national championship baseball season.
Freshman Jack Leftwich threw five scoreless innings, struck out five and allowed only two baserunners, Austin Langworthy singled home the game’s only run in the fourth inning and Michael Byrne tied the school’s career saves record after a tense ninth inning to lead second-ranked UF to a 1-0 win over No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday in front of 9,613 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
Florida (22-5) has now beaten the Seminoles (20-6) seven games in a row and 12 of the last 13. Jacksonville was once a relatively safe haven for FSU against the Gators when it won six of the first nine meetings in the neutral-site series, but UF has a three-game winning streak against the ‘Noles at the home of the Southern League’s Jumbo Shrimp.
After averaging more than eight runs, nine hits and two home runs in eight games since beating Florida State 12-6 on March 13, the Gators scored the fewest runs in a game since a 2-0 loss to Miami on Feb. 25. But Florida improved to 4-0 in one-run games this season — with all four coming in the last 10 games — giving it a 23-7 record in the last two years.
“Our one-run wins is almost unheard of,” said Langworthy, who trailed Wil Dalton’s double in the fourth with his RBI hit.
Neither team made an error in a game that lasted only two hours and eight minutes.
“You win one-run games when you know your defense isn’t going to make an error,” said Bryne, who has six saves this season and 25 for his career to tie John Pricher (1988-92) for the school record. “It’s nice to go out and beat someone our fans care so much about beating, and to have the bragging rights.”
FSU starter Andrew Karp (4-2), who has lost two 1-0 games and has a lifetime 0-3 record against the Gators, was also sharp, pitching eight innings and allowing only four hits, two walks and striking our seven.
Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan marveled at the pitching performance of Leftwich (3-1) and Jordan Butler, who added two innings of hitless relief until Byrne entered the game in the eighth.
“Those two freshmen, in front of 10,000 people, give up only one hit against a top-five team,” O’Sullivan said. “We needed to be really good on the mound because Karp was equally as good as Jack and Jordan.”
Leftwich felt he owed his team one after he gave up two hits and two runs and couldn’t get out of an inning against FSU earlier this month.
“I wanted to show I can get good hitters out and help the team,” he said.
Leftwich retired 13 batters in a row at one point before giving up a single to Rafael Bournigal to lead off the sixth. Butler got out of the inning with a 5-4-3 double play ball and a soft grounder back to the mound, and Byrne was waved in after Butler walked Drew Mendoza to lead off the eighth.
Byrne induced a pop-up and struck out two batters to end the inning but he faced trouble in the ninth when Mike Salvatore singled and one out later, Jackson Lueck singled to put runners at the corners and two dangerous hitters coming up — No. 3 hitter Rhett Applin, who had two homers against the Gators two weeks ago, and cleanup hitter Cal Raleigh.
But Applin took a called third strike and Raleigh grounded sharply to first, where Keenan Bell snagged the ball on one hop and touched the base to end the game.
“It went down to the last pitch,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “We had that one chance, the only time we got a runner to third. Karp pitched absolutely beautifully … it was a great college baseball game when you don’t make an error and they only got four hits. They took advantage of an opportunity and got the run in. There’s no way to describe how frustrated I am right now because we played well in this game.”
Note: Florida will host No. 8 Vanderbilt for a three-game series beginning Friday. Friday’s game is at 6:30 p.m. and will stream live on SEC Network+. Saturday (ESPNU) and Sunday’s (SEC Network) games will both start at noon.