Florida junior Brady Singer played the role of ace close to perfection Saturday night. And junior righty Michael Byrne kept his cool in the late innings.
Singer and Byrne combined to make three solo home runs stand up in Florida’s 3-2 win over Jacksonville before 3,875 at McKethan Stadium in the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
The Gators (44-17) will next play Sunday at 6 p.m. against the winner of 2 seed Jacksonville and 3 seed Florida Atlantic on Sunday afternoon, needing one more win to advance to the Super Regionals. Junior righty Jackson Kowar will start for UF.
“An emotional game like this can kind of take a toll on you a little bit,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But I would expect, Jackson is fully rested. He’s just got to go out there and do his thing. But certainly it’s not over.”
In his first start since May 11 against Georgia, Singer (11-1) allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings, with one walk, two hit batters and five strikeouts. Of Singer’s 99 pitches, 66 were for strikes. Singer has sat out the past two weeks with a mild hamstring strain.
“To get out there tonight after missing two weeks was awesome,” Singer said. “I love playing behind the guys and obviously they picked me up tonight.
“My body felt good. I had to knock a little bit of rust off but, I felt fine especially with the run support and double plays behind me.”
Byrne allowed a triple to Jacksonville center fielder Ruben Someillan to lead off the eighth, but kept Someillan stranded at third with three straight outs. Byrne then retired the side in order in ninth for his 14th save of the season.
O’Sullivan blamed himself for the triple, saying he should have had first baseman Keenan Bell closer to guarding the first base line on the lined grounder into the right field corner. But Byrne got the next batter, Chris Lehane, to fly out to shallow right for the first out. The Gators caught a break when shortstop Deacon Liput dropped a ball in foul territory down the left field line that would have allowed Someillan to score from third for the tying run. Instead, Byrne got Scott Dubrule to ground out to first with the infield in, then got cleanup batter Angel Camacho to pop out to the catcher in foul territory to get out of trouble.
Florida’s offense consisted of back-to-back home runs from Jonathan India and Wil Dalton in the fourth inning and a solo home run from catcher Jonah Girand in the seventh.
After an hour weather delay and both teams played through three scoreless innings, India led off the fourth by rocketing a 2-2 fastball from Spencer Stockton (8-6) over the left field bleachers, giving UF a 1-0 lead. Dalton followed with a towering drive over the left center bleachers on Stockton’s next pitch, putting the Gators up 2-0.
Through a light to moderate rain in the middle innings, Singer maintained the lead. Jacksonville touched Singer for a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Connor Stephens, cutting UF’s lead to 2-1. But Singer came up with a big defensive play, fielding a Someillan squeeze attempt and racing to tag out baserunner Franco Guarascione at home for the second out.
“It kind of surprised me when he showed bunt,” Singer said. “I tried to get it as quick as I can. I almost flipped it but I decided to hang on to it.”
Jacksonville came up with a big defensive play of its own in the sixth, with right fielder Cory Garrastazu robbing Florida left fielder Austin Langworthy of a home run with a leaping catch over the right field fence.
Girand put Florida up 3-1 in the seventh with his second homer in two games. But Jacksonville answered with a solo home run from Garrastazu in the bottom of the seventh, cutting the lead to 3-2.
“Girand has provided a huge lift for us,” O’Sullivan said.