By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Sixth-ranked Florida broke on top with a four-run second inning and went on to defeat Long Beach State, 5-2, Saturday to clinch the season-opening series before a McKethan Stadium crowd of 4,344.
Sophomore right-hander Tommy Mace (1-0) was solid in his 2019 debut, throwing seven complete innings and allowing just five hits and two runs to earn the win while striking out a career-high seven batters.
Freshman relievers Christian Scott and Nolan Crisp finished off the win, each recording a 1-2-3 inning as UF improved to 2-0 while the Dirtbags slipped to 0-2.
“Much cleaner,” head coach Kevin o’Sullivan said of Florida’s game two effort.
“We had a brief meeting before we stretched today and the bottom line is it’s normal to have those feelings and jitters like they did last night, but you have to have the ability to reel them in once you get past the first couple of innings. We needed to settle in, and I thought we did that tonight.”
Much like Friday’s season-opener when the Gators plated four runs in their first at-bat, UF scored four times in the home half of the second inning to take the 4-0 lead.
It started off innocently enough when Long Beach starter Zak Baayoun struck out two of the first three batters he faced, with freshman Kendrick Calilao reaching on a base on balls.
But Baayoun issued his second walk of the inning to Brady Smith, and Blake Reese, the No. 8 hitter, followed with a two-out double to score both runners as UF took a 2-0 lead.
Freshman Jud Fabian followed with another double scoring Smith, and junior Austin Langworthy then capped the inning by slapping an RBI single to score Fabian and make it 4-0, Gators.
UF would add a single run in the third when senior Nelson Maldonado walked on a 3-2 pitch, advanced all the way to third on a two-base throwing error on Baayoun and came home to score on Wil Dalton’s sacrifice fly.
The Dirtbags would score twice in the fourth on Aidan Malm’s sac fly and Santino Rivera’s two-out, RBI single, but that was all the damage they could muster.
Mace retired No. 9 hitter Tanner Carlson to end the inning and then went on to limit Long Beach to just one infield hit the rest of the way before retiring.
“I just focused on throwing strikes,” Mace said. “I got behind in a couple of counts and that’s what hurt me with the two runs. But I think overall I threw well.”
O’Sullivan echoed that sentiment.
“Starting on the mound, Tommy was outstanding,” O’Sullivan noted. “Other than the hit by pitch to start the fourth, I believe it was with a backup slider, he pitched really well. It was really good to get Christian Scott out there for one inning and seven pitches. His fastball looked really good, and obviously to get Nolan Crisp out there, he was pretty impressive. He’s supposed to be a high school senior right now, and to go out there and keep his emotions in check when he’s got three left-hand hitters in a row he’s got to face. I thought he did really well.”
Langworthy, Calilao, third baseman Cory Acton, Reese and Fabian all had hits for the Gators, while Crisp picked up his first save.
Baayoun (0-1), who threw the first 5 1/3 innings, took the loss.
UF has now won all 12 season-opening series under O’Sullivan and will go for the sweep Sunday at noon.