Special to Gatorsports.com
[Updated 6:49 a.m. 5-24-18] HOOVER, Ala. — Playing without the services of two of its All-SEC performers Wednesday, top-ranked Florida showed it has plenty of talent on the roster to beat LSU 4-3 and advance in the SEC tournament.
The top-seeded Gators (42-15) will play No. 4 seed Arkansas (38-17), a 13-8 winner of Wednesday’s late game against No. 5 seed South Carolina, in the winner’s bracket 9 p.m. game Thursday. No. 8 seed LSU (34-24) will play an elimination game against USC (33-23) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Playing their second game without senior catcher JJ Schwarz, who suffered a small break in his right hand in last Friday’s loss at Mississippi State, and with ace pitcher Brady Singer out, the Gators got key production up and down their roster.
Freshman pitcher Tommy Mace (4-0) went a season-high seven innings, allowed only three hits, three runs (one earned), walked just one and struck out four to help the Gators snap a four-game losing streak. Michael Byrne set down five of the six batters he faced to pick up his 13th save.
“Another Florida-LSU game, they’re always competitive and seem to be entertaining,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It was fun to see two freshman go out there and throw the ball the way they did. I didn’t know quite what to expect on this stage, but I think they both pitched well and I think it was a much-needed win for us.
“We’d lost four in a row going back to the Sunday against Georgia and I don’t think we’d lost four in a row since 2013. It wasn’t the cleanest of games, but it was one that we needed. I’m really excited about these guys getting back on the winning track.”
LSU took advantage of two errors by second basemen Blake Reese to go up 3-0. His first throwing error put a LSU runner on before Jake Slaughter launched a two-run home run in the second inning.
Then following another throwing error in the third, Daniel Cabrera hit a RBI single for the Tigers.
Florida tied it at 3-all with three runs in its half of the third inning. Deacon Liput hit a RBI double, Nelson Maldonado a RBI groundout and Jonathan India, the SEC Player of the Year, hit a run-scoring single to highlight the inning.
The Gators went up 4-3 in the fifth on Austin Langworthy’s RBI single after two outs.
Mace stranded two LSU runners who had reached via two errors from India at third in the sixth.
India redeemed himself on the field in the eighth inning with two outs and runners on third and second. India snared a hot grounder with a diving catch, got up and threw Slaughter out at first.
Byrne struck out the first two batters in the ninth. Zach Watson singled but Antoine Duplantis hit a flyout to center.
Freshman Cal Greenfield, taking over at catcher for Schwarz, contributed by scoring a run and throwing out a base stealer.
Note: Schwarz will miss the SEC Tournament, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan confirmed Wednesday morning. Schwarz took a foul ball off the hand Friday night during the Florida game at Mississippi State.
O’Sullivan said Schwarz will be re-evaluated after the tournament and Florida will go day-by-day with him.
- Singer, the SEC Pitcher of Year, told Laura Rutledge of the SEC Network he’s taking the week off to rehab his tweaked hamstring and get ready for regionals. He said he would throw a bullpen Saturday. “It’s not easy. … I want to be out there competing with the guys,” he said.
- Freshman Jack Leftwich (4-4, 4.80 ERA) will start on the mound for UF on Thursday night.
- Florida moves to 36-1 this season when leading after six innings, the best record in the SEC. This was the first meeting of Florida and LSU since the 2017 College World Series Finals, which the Gators won.