Special to Gatorsports.com
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Let’s face it. Florida needs to go on a nice winning streak in order to receive an invitation to the NCAA baseball tournament.
Thursday’s 5-4 win at No. 24 Missouri is a good start.
Florida (31-23, 11-17 SEC) edged Missouri (34-19-1, 13-14-1) to open the final regular-season series of the season. It’s Florida’s 10th consecutive win over Missouri.
“We fought tonight,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We haven’t had a whole lot of success on the road in the league this year, and this was hopefully a step in the right direction in the development of some of our younger guys.
“This is one of the better Missouri teams that they’ve had over the last few years. This team needed something good to happen and this was one we needed to pull out. It would have been deflating to lose this ballgame, and say ‘Here we go again.’ The same thing that’s happened throughout the year. They battled and they fought.”
Missouri took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly from Chad McDaniel, but the Gators rebounded with four runs in the top of the fifth inning to take the lead.
Cory Acton and Jud Fabian each hit two-run home runs in the inning to give Florida a 4-1 lead. UF added another run in the sixth inning as Brady Smith scored from second on a wild pitch.
The Tigers mounted a comeback in the seventh inning and knocked Tommy Mace (8-4) from the game. With the bases loaded, Mace walked in a run before getting the second out with a strikeout.
Chris Cornelius lined a ball to second base that would have ended the inning, but Jacob Young couldn’t hold on, as Missouri cut the Gators’ lead to 5-4.
Jordan Butler relieved Mace and escaped the jam with a strikeout to end the inning. He retired the final seven Missouri batters of the game to pick up his first save of the season.
“What can you say about Jordan Butler?” O’Sullivan asked. “We went to the pen yesterday and had a pen session, quite frankly a heart-to-heart, about some things he needed to change in his delivery, raise his slot and change his front side a little bit. Talked about his lead leg a little bit. So it was a lot thrown at him yesterday in the pen, really gave him an ultimatum, for lack of a better term. For him to come out there tonight and do exactly what we asked him to do in the pen and make that quick of an adjustment with his delivery, it was awesome. It was good to see him have some success, because it hadn’t quite gone his way this year. Certainly with the way he threw tonight it will be a step in the right direction.”
Mace finished the night with four runs allowed, two earned, in 6.2 innings.
The teams go at it again at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Friday (SEC Network+) before wrapping up the series at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“I had hoped that this team would have figured out the competitive spirit that it takes to play in this league a little sooner, but they certainly have shown some fight the last couple weekends,” O’Sullivan said. “Tonight could have gotten away from them, but it didn’t. They made some pitches, made some plays, all in all, it may only be one win in the win column, but for us and the way this season has gone, this is a big win for us and hopefully for the development of our young players.”