Big 7th inning helps UF clinch series from Vanderbilt

Florida catcher JJ Schwarz is coming off a weekend where he had four RBI and went 5-for-12 (.421) with a double and a triple. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent/File/

At this rate, Kevin O’Sullivan is going to run out of lineup cards.

For the second straight game, he presented one to a Gator player who had achieved a milestone to remember.

On Friday night, it was Michael Byrne after the closer set the UF record for saves. On Saturday afternoon, it was JJ Schwarz, who tied Brad Wilkerson for the second most RBI in Gator history.

Most importantly, both of the milestones came in victories as the second-ranked Gators beat No. 8 Vanderbilt 10-2 in front of a crowd of 4,835 at McKethan Stadium.

“There have been a lot of good players who have played here,” said Schwarz. “Just being in the top couple of guys is pretty special.”

With three RBI in the game including two big ones in the first inning, the UF captain tied Wilkerson at 214 career runs batted in. Current Atlanta Brave Preston Tucker is at the top with 258.

“It’s remarkable,” O’Sullivan said. “Congrats to JJ. It has been a special couple of nights. I’m going to enjoy these. I’m really happy for them to be able to experience that.”

Florida followed a familiar pattern to get a second straight win against Vandy and fifth in a row against top-10 teams (by a combined score of 41-12).

The Gators led 2-1 going to the bottom of the seventh in Friday’s rain-delayed game before scoring five runs in the inning. On Saturday, UF led 3-1 in what looked like another close game before scoring seven runs in the seventh to break it open.

The Gators (24-5 and 6-2 in SEC play) have now averaged nine runs a game in Jackson Kowar’s seven starts.

“They just waited today until I came out of the game to start scoring,” said Kowar (5-1). “It was close while I was in there.”

Kowar allowed five hits and struck out six in 6⅓ innings.

“I didn’t come out in the beginning with my best stuff but I feel like I was able to get better as the game went on and protect that lead,” he said. “It was kind of frustrating to elevate my pitch count and throw so many non-competitive pitches.

“Sometimes you just gotta get through it.”

While the margin of victory was large as the Gators scored in double figures for the seventh time this season and second straight Saturday, the game was hardly a breeze before the seventh.

Kowar exited after giving up an RBI single to Alonzo Jones in the top of the inning to cut the UF lead to 3-1.

Freshman Jordan Butler came in to get out of the inning, getting a pop up and — after being called for a balk — striking out Connor Kaiser looking on a 3-2 pitch.

“(Butler) is really starting to come into his own,” O’Sullivan said.

In the bottom of the inning, the floodgates opened and the Commodores (17-10, 5-3) could not find an anchor.

Wil Dalton’s RBI single and a run-scoring double by Schwarz gave the Gators some room to breathe. When the Vandy infield let an Austin Langworthy pop fly drop near the pitcher’s mound, another run scored.

After a walk, Keenan Bell — who came in to the game hitting .212 — launched a three-run homer into the bullpen in right-center, his fourth of the year, to make it 9-1.

“It’s been frustrating at times because I feel like I had some good at-bats with nothing to show for it,” Bell said. “I’m just going up there looking to have good at-bats.”

Playing just 12½ hours after the Friday game ended, the Gators started fast.

A double by Nelson Maldonado off the glove of right fielder Pat Demarco and a hit batsmen put two runners on. After a Dalton strikeout, the Gators got a break during Schwarz’s at-bat when Maldonado was caught off third but a low throw to third by first baseman Julian Infante allowed both runners to be safe.

Schwarz made the Commodores pay with a sharp single up the middle to make it 2-0.

“I felt like I was seeing it pretty good on that at-bat,” Schwarz said. “I knew what pitches he was working with. He left one over the plate. I tried to stay up the middle because I’ve been pulling off a lot lately, so I tried to keep it simple.”

In the second inning, singles by Bell and Nick Horvath put runners on the corners and Maldonado brought Bell home with a deep fly to right.

Vandy starter Patrick Rabe settled down after giving up the three runs and retired 10 straight Gators at one point. But once he left, the bullpen had no answer for the Gators bats.

Jonathan India extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a fifth-inning single. 


SEC Showdown

Who: No. 8 Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Florida

When: 12 p.m. Sunday

Where: McKethan Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM

Pitching matchup: Vandy RHP Mason Hickman (5-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. UF RHP Tyler Dyson (4-1, 2.10)