MSU wins series; UF gains doubleheader split

Florida's Tyler Dyson. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent/File]

Inclement weather posed a threat for the finale between the No. 5-ranked Gators baseball team and Mississippi State, forcing a doubleheader Saturday that nonetheless featured an intermittent drizzle.

When the lights finally went off at McKethan Stadium, MSU had claimed the first game of the afternoon 10-5, giving the Bulldogs the series victory, although UF closed the weekend on a high note in securing the final game of the night, 4-2.

After more than six hours of baseball between two top-10 programs, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan lamented the mound issues that ultimately resulted in the Gators dropping their first conference series of the 2019 season.

“Bottom line is we just didn’t pitch very well. We fell behind an awful lot, and we didn’t particularly walk a lot of guys, but the timing of our walks, a lot of our walks have been lead-off walks, and we’re starting a lot of innings off in 2-0, 3-1 counts, and putting ourselves in a tough position, where guys are getting off good swings on fastballs,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to correct that.”

As they did in claiming a 6-5 win Friday night, the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs withstood Florida’s late comeback attempt — however, MSU had a significant cushion this time around. Although the Gators ultimately registered 10 hits during MSU freshman pitcher J.T. Ginn’s 6 ⅓ innings, it was too little, too late.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a early 5-0 lead and didn’t slow down at the plate, ultimately registering 17 hits in claiming the 10-5 win.

“He can manipulate the fastball like I haven’t seen from a young kid in a long time,” O’Sullivan said of Ginn. “We could have got to him a little bit earlier.”

Meanwhile, the loss marked the first of the season for Jack Leftwich (4-1), who gave up seven hits in 5 ⅓ innings of action.

The teams reconvened 45 minutes later, with Tyler Dyson taking over on the mound as UF looked to avoid getting swept.

Florida would string together two hits in the first inning, yet the Gators once again left runners on the corners. The Bulldogs, however, wouldn’t let a similar opportunity slip away. Josh Hatcher doubled to lead off the third inning before advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt by Gunner Halter. Hatcher would give MSU an early 1-0 lead on Jordan Westburg’s second RBI of the day, and it appeared as if the Bulldogs were set for the sweep.

But Florida would soon turn the tide in a decisive three-run, four-hit fourth inning before ultimately claiming the final game, 4-2.

“When you’re coming into a game at home, and you lose the first two of the series on an SEC weekend, and you’ve got to go out there and, you can’t get swept at home,” Dyson said. “I know my freshman year (in 2017) we went to Auburn and got swept, and we put ourselves behind the eight-ball. You’ve got to come out here and get (wins) in this league.”

After Nelson Maldonado doubled to left center-field to lead off the inning, Wil Dalton singled, sending Maldonado through to third. With runners on the corners and freshman Kris Armstrong, who provided a home run in Saturday’s first contest, at the plate, Bulldogs pitcher Keegan James  balked to score Maldonado, in turn giving the Gators their first lead after 13 innings of action.

Maldonado’s third hit of the day would sail into the left-field bleachers, giving the senior his third home run of the season and pushing Florida’s lead to 4-1.

It was a return to form of sorts for Dyson, who dropped from Game 1 starter to Game 3 prior to SEC play after a rough stretch to begin the season. The junior right-hander allowed a lone run on six hits while tossing 84 pitches, 55 of which were called strikes.

“That’s the best he’s pitched all year,” O’Sullivan said of Dyson. “We needed him to.”

After getting a run back with Jordan Butler on the mound for Florida, the Bulldogs (18-2, 2-1 SEC) had a chance to pull in front in the seventh inning, but left-fielder Jacob Young made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Jake Mangum of the go-ahead three-run home run.

Florida (15-7, 1-2) returns to McKethan Stadium on Tuesday to face Jacksonville University at 6 p.m.

“We just didn’t nail it very well. But young players are learning, and this second game today we were much better,” O’Sullivan said. “A lot of youth, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse. But they have the ability to play at this level, we just have to learn to do that on a consistent basis. I think that’s the biggest challenge at this point.”