Hunter Ruth used to dream about days like Sunday.
SEC game, big crowd in the stands, pinstriped Gator jersey on his back.
“It’s been my dream since I was a kid,” said the Buchholz High School product.
Ruth made the most out of a bad situation Sunday, replacing starter Jack Leftwich seven batters into the game and throwing 7⅔ strong innings, as Florida beat Alabama 6-3 to sweep the three-game series.
As a crowd of 3,785 watched at McKethan Stadium, Ruth came in after Leftwich exited with a blister issue on his throwing hand. Ruth allowed only four hits and pitched into the ninth before leaving with the game under control.
“I’ve been coming here and watching countless pitchers do incredible things,” Ruth said. “To pitch in front of all of these people in my hometown, it’s incredible.”
The sweep lifted No. 23 Florida’s record to 4-5 in the league, 20-10 overall. Alabama drops to 20-9 and 2-7.
Ruth missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery, but threw 82 pitches to get his first Gator win.
“A big lift,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Florida is left to try to figure out how to handle its Sunday starter after Leftwich lasted only 22 pitches. He left the field in the first inning to be attended to by athletic trainer Jon Michelini, then returned after five minutes to finish out the inning, but was removed after two runners reached to start the second.
“We’ve been dealing with it for five weeks,” O’Sullivan said. “Normally, he puts Super Glue on his finger. He didn’t use it this week. It opened up in the first inning. He knew it because there was blood on his pants.
“We’ll have to get that under control. He hasn’t found his groove yet.”
One player who may be getting his groove back is junior Austin Langworthy. The day had a local feel as the Williston product knocked in three runs with a double and a homer.
Langworthy entered the series hitting .191 for the season, but had five hits over the weekend.
“I knew eventually it would turn around,” Langworthy said. “Gotta start somewhere. Hopefully, keep it going. It’s baseball. It’s a weird game.”
Florida’s defense played well all weekend with the exception of an error in the second inning that gave Alabama the lead.
In the inning, the Gators caught Alabama’s Jim Trousdale off second on a ground out. But first baseman Kendrick Calilou, after running toward Trousdale, turned and threw home to try to nab Drew Williamson breaking for the plate.
The throw was wide and high giving Alabama a 1-0 lead.
“Other than that, we played really well in the field and we ran the bases well,” O’Sullivan said. “We needed to play well and certainly at home.”
Florida scored twice in the bottom of the inning, once on a double to the left-center gap by Langworthy with two on and another on a sacrifice fly by Brady Smith to deep center.
In the fourth, Langworthy ripped his fourth homer of the year. The two-out big fly to right gave Florida a 4-1 lead.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get out or not,” Langworthy said. “It sure enough did.”
The Gators added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on an RBI single by Calilao, who leads the team with 32 RBI, and a bases-loaded wild pitch.
Ruth was an out away from finishing the game before he was pulled after a walk with two outs in the ninth.
“I kept a kind of pitch count so I knew he was going to keep pushing me,” Ruth said. “He wanted me to go as far as I could.”
Jordan Butler gave up a mammoth two-run homer to center field before getting the final out.
“We’re in a lot better position (after the sweep),” Langworthy said. “What are we, 4-5? That’s not terrible.”
Florida plays Tuesday night at home against Florida A&M at 6 p.m.