Florida junior shortstop Deacon Liput said he wasn’t surprised when he received a bunt sign after belting a three-run homer to get the Gators back into the game against USF.
“That’s a part of my game,” Liput said. “I take pride in being able to bunt. In that situation when you need runs and you get runners on first and second with nobody out, that’s what it calls for.”
Liput’s bunt didn’t just move the runners over, it brought in the go-ahead runs in UF’s eventual 11-8 win Tuesday over USF before an announced crowd of 3,484 at McKethan Stadium.
Liput had lined a three-run homer to right, his sixth of the season, to cut USF’s lead to 8-7 in the bottom of the sixth inning. After senior center fielder Nick Horvath belted an RBI single to tie the score at 8 in the bottom of the seventh, Liput got the bunt sign with runners on first and second and none out.
Liput laid down a sacrifice in front of the mound that USF pitcher Kevin King fielded late. King rushed the throw and it sailed over the head of first baseman Joe Genord into foul territory in right field. Freshman first baseman Brady Smith and Horvath raced all the way home with the go-ahead runs, putting the Gators up 10-8. Smith added an RBI double in the eighth for UF’s 11th run.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he called for the bunt because the left-handed hitting Liput was facing a lefty reliever and with junior righty Michael Byrne warming up in the bullpen, he wanted to take the lead.
“Every situation is different, but often times, when you lay down a good bunt, it leads to a big inning,” O’Sullivan said.
The No. 1 Gators (39-11) rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to win for the fourth time in their last five games. Freshman lefty Jordan Butler (5-1) pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win, while Byrne struck out two over two scoreless innings to pick up his 12th save of the season.
“It shows a lot about our team and the fight we have and the confidence we have,” Liput said. “Just the love we have for each other and everybody wants to have each other’s back. So when it’s not someone’s best day, everyone wants to pick him up.”
The matchup with hard-hitting No. 24 USF (29-16) got off to an ominous start. Sophomore righty Tyler Dyson got the start for the Gators and once again struggled on the mound, allowing five of the first six batters he faced to reach base. Dyson lasted just .1 inning, allowing four earned runs on two hits with three walks and no strikeouts.
Designated hitter Chris Chatfield belted a double off the left wall with the bases loaded to give USF an early 2-0 lead. The Bulls added two more runs in the first inning on a bases loaded walk and a sac fly off reliever Tommy Mace, though the runs were credited to Dyson.
“He’s just going through a tough stretch,” O’Sullivan said. “There are some things mechanically, he’s pushing the ball against left-handed hitters, he’s not getting on top of the ball and his release point is changing. But these things occur, these physical things you see from the dugout, when guys lose their confidence and he’s just going to have to get his confidence back. There’s no way it’s going to happen other than to keep running him out there.
“He’ll get himself through it. He’s frustrated. It’s just one of those things. He’s not the first person that has had to struggle a little bit and get through it and he’s not going to be the last.”
Chatfield added a two-RBI single in the second inning off Mace to put USF up 6-0. But the Gators chipped away at the deficit. An RBI single by Nelson Maldonado and sac fly by Wil Dalton cut USF’s lead to 6-2. Maldonado then scored on a wild pitch to cut USF’s lead to 6-3 before the end of the third.
Junior second baseman Blake Reese led off the fourth inning with a solo home run, his third of the season, to cut USF’s lead to 6-4.
USF extended its lead back to 8-4 in the fifth inning on back-to-back, two-out RBI singles by Coco Montes and Duke Stunkel Jr. But Liput’s three-run blast in the sixth, off a 3-2 pitch from reliever Carson Ragsdale, gave the Gators life.
“It’s always coachspeak when you talk to your team, you can come back, you can come back, don’t get your head down, but you have to do it,” O’Sullivan said. “I think we can draw from it if we get in this situation and fall behind later this season.”