When it comes to the regular season, the finish matters more than the start – yet that doesn’t make the way the No. 1-ranked Gators have started their final season at McKethan Stadium any less impressive.
With the 7-1 victory over Troy, Florida not only completed the series sweep – the Gators tied the best start in program history by picking up their 11th win in as many tries. Only twice before – in 1989 and again in the 2002 season – had the Gators started so hot in Gainesville, and it had yet to happen under coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s watch.
Considering Florida has yet to reach its athletic potential this season in O’Sullivan’s eyes, the start appears all the more impressive.
“I told the team at the end of the game, when you kind of look at it, every third or fourth weekend we’re a little bit sluggish, and I think a lot of it has to do with not being in baseball shape. We only have three weeks to get ready for the season, and never once in preseason did we go nine innings, nine innings and nine innings in three consecutive days,” he said. “We’re really not in baseball shape yet.”
After falling into early holes in the first two meetings with the Trojans (8-4), the Gators appeared to be in far better shape for Sunday’s showdown.
Florida started the scoring early, getting on the board in the first inning when Jordan Butler’s double to left-center field brought home Ocala native Kirby McMullen, and the Gators would extend the lead to 2-0 when Kendrick Calilao was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the third inning, scoring Jud Fabian.
After Troy got on the board in the fourth with a sacrifice fly in what would ultimately stand as the team’s lone run, Florida pushed the lead to 3-1 when Trojans right-hander Marquez Oates was called for a balk that would score Austin Langworthy.
Matt Snell would proceed to replace Oates on the mound, and the Gators quickly took advantage of the early change. Calilao flied out to center on Snell’s first pitch, bringing Butler home for Florida’s fourth run.
Overall, however, O’Sullivan wasn’t pleased with Florida’s decision-making at the plate.
“Brady Smith swung at a 2-0 pitch today, didn’t make very hard contact. Kendrick did the same,” O’Sullivan said. “We took some swings where we were reaching, and there’s really no need for that. But I think a lot of that really has to do with not being in baseball shape.”
Making his first appearance since striking out seven Hurricanes in Coral Gables, freshman left-handed pitcher Hunter Barco pitched five innings, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out nine Trojans in picking up his second win.
“I thought Hunter pitched well today. Obviously he’s going to have to get better once we start conference play,” O’Sullivan, citing Barco’s 93 pitches, said.
Langworthy went 2-for-5 at the plate, but would commit his second running error of the weekend in the seventh inning; meanwhile, Jacob Young would extend his multi-game hitting streak to six games on a single, but UF couldn’t extend the lead despite putting multiple Gators in scoring positions.
Though Florida made sure it ultimately wouldn’t matter.
Fabian would get a hold of the first pitch he saw from DJ Wilkinson for a three-run home run that sailed over the bleachers in left field and pushed UF’s lead to 7-1. With a comfortable lead, Brandon Sproat pitched the ninth for Florida.
“He hit one off the tower the other day in batting practice, dead center, I think that was a little more impressive than this one,” Young said of Fabian’s home run. “But that ball was absolutely hammered. I’ll take any of them if they go over the wall.”
Florida returns to the diamond Tuesday at 7 p.m. when it takes on Florida Atlantic in West Palm Beach before returning home Wednesday to face FAMU.