Through 7.2 innings Saturday night, the Florida Gators seemed to be following the same slump-ridden script they’ve been stuck with all week.
Give up some clutch hits and big runs, fall behind, then have no way of coming back because their bats have fallen asleep and can’t/won’t wake up.
Down 3-1, UF seemed destined to lose its fourth game in a row.
Then, out of nowhere, following three consecutive walks with two outs in the seventh, the Gators somehow changed the script. Actually, to be precise, it was junior Wil Dalton who did it.
With one swift, sweet swing, Dalton powered the Gators out of their hitting slump, launching a triple to right-center that cleared the bases and helped send UF to a 9-3 win over Miami before 6,206 at McKethan Stadium.
“I got chills walking to the plate because I told some of the guys that they were going to load the bases,” Dalton said. “I said, ‘somehow, the bases are going to be loaded here and I’m splitting this game wide open. Whether it takes a dribbler through the infield, some way, somehow, I’m scoring runs.’
“I basically put my pride on the line and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve got.’ And I gave it all for those guys. It’s been a rough past week. I just tried to keep things positive. I just said, ‘Keep playing for each other.’
“That’s all it was. I said, ‘Don’t give up, because it’s giving up on them. You can do this for your team.’ It all worked out. I honored the name on the front of my jersey and went after it.”
It was not a dribbler through the infield that ignited the Gators. It was a scorching line drive to right center that went all the way to the wall and scored the three players who walked in front of Dalton — Brady Smith, Brady McConnell and Austin Langworthy.
Dalton fell behind 0-2 in the count to UM reliever JP Gates. Following a ball, Dalton expected a 1-2 fastball, and that’s exactly what he got.
“I told myself, ‘This guy can’t beat me with anything hard,’ ” Dalton said. “I told myself, ‘Sit back. If you hit it foul down the line you do, nothing is coming across this plate.’
“It was a fastball. After he’d thrown two change-ups and a breaking ball, there was only one other pitch you can throw. I told myself, ‘Don’t get antsy, let the barrell get to it and do the job.’ And it did.”
The Gators will go for their sixth consecutive series win over the Hurricanes at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Following Dalton’s game-changing hit in the seventh, freshman Kendrick Calilao ripped a run-scoring double to give UF a 5-3 lead.
Now out of their hitting slump, the Gators took off from there, adding four more runs in the eighth to put the game away. McConnell hit a bases-loaded run single, Blake Reese scored on a wild pitch and Calilao came up with another big knock, a single that pushed across the game’s final run.
It was an offensive explosion for a team that had scored only four runs in the previous three games, all losses earlier in the week.
So, the week-long slump is over for the Gators, apparently.
“We needed it,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Dalton’s triple. “I know everyone has been talking about our offense. Most years we play 65, 70 games. Everybody goes through a tough spell for whatever reason. It hit us for the first five or six games.
“We needed to play with more intensity. That was the first game we played with a little bit of fire. We were in the game. It could have been easy for us to hang our heads after falling down three runs.
“Maybe it takes one of these kind of games to get you going. It was good to see us have some intensity and fight and really good at-bats.”
The Gators (4-3) found themselves down 3-0 after Miami’s Raymond Gil launched a three-run home run against UF starter Tommy Mace with two outs in the sixth inning.
It was perhaps Mace’s only mistake of the night. He ended up pitching seven strong innings, giving up only five hits and striking out three.
UF’s four-run seventh inning turned him into the winner.
Who: Miami (5-1) vs. No. 5 Florida (4-3)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: McKethan Stadium
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Online: SEC Network+