By Walter Villa
CORAL GABLES – The guys from the Palm Beach Gardens Gators helped make the Florida Gators a winner Friday night.
And it was a good thing for Florida because this was a night in which starter Brady Singer – projected by MLB.com to be the No. 1 overall MLB draft pick this year — did not have his best stuff.
Eight-hole hitter Nick Horvath homered and drove in a career-high four runs and JJ Schwarz added a solo blast as the top-ranked Gators defeated Miami 7-3 in Friday night’s opener of a three-game series.
“It’s because that’s the best school,” Schwarz said/joked when asked about Palm Beach Gardens. “Anyone who comes out of that school has success.”
The Gators (6-0) are certainly having success. They won their ninth consecutive game, dating to last year’s national championship run. They have also won five straight and nine of 10 against the Hurricanes (2-3).
Horvath, a senior who did not homer last season, had just two long balls in his Florida career entering Friday. A combo pitcher/center fielder, Horvath was mostly used as a defensive replacement last year.
On Friday, though, he hit a two-run homer in the second to close Florida’s deficit to 3-2. He then hit a two-run double in the fourth to give the Gators a 4-3 lead. Schwarz’s solo homer in the fifth put Florida up 5-3.
Both home runs were struck to left on a night in which the wind was blowing out in that direction.
That was an issue also for Singer, who allowed a highly improbably opposite-field, two-run homer to little-used Michael Perez, who swung at a 1-2 pitch. It was just Perez’s fourth at-bat of the young season and his first career homer.
Singer (2-0) lasted just five innings and 95 pitches, allowing nine hits, no walks and three runs. He struck out four and saw his ERA rise from 0.00 to 2.25.
“Nothing we can say on media,” Schwarz said when asked what he and his teammates discussed after Singer fell behind 3-0. “But we did have to go back and chalk something up because they had a good plan for Brady. We had to change it up since they were on him. I think we did a good job adjusting.”
The Gators beat ‘Canes ace Jeb Bargfeldt, a second-team All-ACC selection last year who entered the game with a 1-0 record and a 1.80 ERA. He allowed five runs in six innings.
Freshman Tommy Mace was another Gators hero. He pitched four hitless and scoreless innings for his first save. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder from Tampa – a 12th-round pick by the Reds last year – allowed just one walk.
Note: The Gators have won 10 of the last 12 and 24 of the last 29 against Miami. UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan is 25-6 against Miami in his career at Florida.
Who: No. 1 Florida (6-0) vs. Miami (2-3)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, Coral Gables
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM