Florida junior righty Brady Singer felt a twinge in his hamstring after fielding a ground ball in the first inning against Auburn.
A quick visit from Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the training staff ensued. But Singer said there was no way he was coming out of the game. Not with the stakes this high. Not knowing that he would need to match zeroes with Auburn ace Casey Mize to keep his team in the game.
After some early command issues, Singer settled down and lasted into the seventh inning, pitching UF to a critical 8-2 win Saturday over Auburn to open the best-of-three Super Regional Series before 4,610 at McKethan Stadium.
The defending national champion Gators (46-18) are one win away from their fourth straight trip to the College World Series in Omaha. Singer (12-1) is a big reason why, allowing just two runs on four hits with nine strikeouts in 6.2 innings. Singer also walked two and hit two batters, but after throwing 71 pitches through the first three innings, was able to economize his pitches by retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced. Of his 119 pitches, 74 were for strikes.
“Just made some good quality pitches,” Singer said. “I saw my pitch count kind of going up and I wanted to get deep into the ballgame. But the gameplan going in there the last two innings was to throw some good quality strikes and get him to ground out.”
Singer left in the seventh inning to a standing ovation and chants of “Brady … Singer” in what will likely be his final McKethan Stadium start.
“Coming off the mound, the fans cheering for me, I kind of soaked it all in,” Singer said. “I’m forever grateful for this place and extremely happy to be a part of it.”
In the anticipated match-up of college aces, Singer out-dueled Mize for the second time this season. Florida beat Auburn 3-1 during the regular season April 26, with Singer getting the win over Mize. Earlier this week, Mize was taken No. 1 in Major League Baseball’s Amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers, while Singer went 18th overall in the first round to the Kansas City Royals.
The rematch didn’t start out promising for Singer. Auburn (42-22) jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second inning when first baseman Josh Anthony delivered a two-out RBI single. The Tigers then extended their lead to 2-0 in the top of the third on an RBI single by designated hitter Edouard Julien that landed just in front of diving UF center fielder Nick Horvath. Singer, though, was able to work out of a first and third one-out jam to get out of the inning.
The Gators then broke through against Mize (10-6), scoring four runs in the third inning to take a 4-2 lead. Shortstop Deacon Liput and designated hitter Nelson Maldonado started the rally with back-to-back singles with one out. Third baseman Jonathan India then walked to load the bases. Right fielder Wil Dalton followed with a two-RBI single off the right field wall, tying the score at 2.
“There’s not many opportunities you get to score off of Mize,” O’Sullivan said. “Wil’s at-bat, that was a pivotal part of the game.”
The Gators then went ahead to stay 3-2, with India beating a throw home on a head-first slide on a slow rolling grounder to first by Austin Langworthy. Later in the inning first baseman Keenan Bell delivered a two-out RBI single, putting Florida up 4-2.
Florida tacked on two more runs off of Mize in the fifth, taking advantage of a pair of Auburn defensive miscues. Dalton appeared to be picked off second with one out, but in the rundown between second and third, shortstop Will Holland made a throwing error which allowed Dalton to score as the ball trickled into foul territory behind third base. Langworthy then scored from second on a throwing error by first baseman Anthony, who threw wide of Mize covering the bag on a sharp grounder by Blake Reese. The two runs put Florida up 6-2.
Mize allowed six earned runs on seven hits in five innings, with four walks and five strikeouts. Mize entered the start with just 12 walks in 109.2 innings.
“I can’t remember the last time I walked four guys,” Mize said. “I just couldn’t get ahead (in the count).”
Liput’s ninth home run of the season off Auburn reliever Davis Daniel put Florida up 7-2 in the sixth, while Maldonado’s eighth homer extended UF’s lead to 8-2 in the eighth. Lefty freshman Jordan Butler and junior righty Michael Byrne combined for 2.1 scoreless innings to finish off the game.
Florida will send junior righty Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.38 ERA) to the mound against Auburn freshman righty Tanner Burns (7-4, 312 ERA) on Sunday at noon (ESPN) in the hopes of finishing off the series in two games.
“This thing is a long way from over,” O’Sullivan said. “But we’re excited we took game one.”
GAINESVILLE SUPER REGIONAL
At McKethan Stadium
(Best of three)
Saturday: Florida 8, Auburn 2
Sunday: Florida vs. Auburn, noon
Monday (If necessary): Auburn vs. Florida, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Pitching matchups -Today: Tanner Burns (7-4, 3.12) vs. Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.38)