By Kevin Brockway
With its bats silent for most of the game, Florida needed to find any way it could to score on Saturday night against USF.
Courtesy of freshman Blake Reese and a gutty effort from sophomore righty reliever Michael Byrne, the Gators delivered some late-night magic to advance in the Gainesville Regional.
Reese scored all the way from first base on a pair of throwing errors for the go-ahead run in the top of the 12th. From there, Florida tacked on three more big insurance runs to beat USF 5-1 in 12 innings at McKethan Stadium.
Florida next plays at 7 tonight against the winner of this afternoon’s game between USF (42-18) and Bethune-Cookman (noon start). Sophomore righty Brady Singer will start for the Gators. Bethune-Cookman knocked Marist out of the regional with a 4-2 win Saturday afternoon.
“Just a crazy game, but this Saturday game is the most important, because somebody has to beat you twice,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Certainly we’re not going to take anything for granted and we got very fortunate with the ball thrown away. This is what happens in postseason baseball. For the most part you have to play clean baseball and we’ve done that.”
Reese entered the game as a pinch-runner for Christian Hicks, who led off the 12th with an infield single with the score tied at 1. After Deacon Liput failed to lay down a sacrifice, Reese remained at first with one out. But when USF closer Andrew Perez’s errant pickoff throw sailed into right field, Reese raced all the way to third base. Then, USF first baseman Joe Genord’s long throw from foul territory sailed over the head of USF third baseman David Villar, which allowed Reese to race home to give the Gators a 2-1 lead.
“Hicks hit it in just the right spot and was able to give us a good 90 down the line, just beats the throw from shortstop,” O’Sullivan said. “From there we really had no choice, we weren’t swinging the bats well against the relievers and we were hoping if someone ran one in the gap, (Reese) could score from first.”
That opened the floodgates for the Gators (44-16). Florida scored three more times in the inning on an RBI groundout by JJ Schwarz with the bases loaded and a two-RBI single by Nelson Maldonado, putting the Gators up 5-1.
“We had some clutch at-bats there in the 12th inning, too, stayed in the middle of the field, kind of strung some (hits) together,” O’Sullivan said.
Byrne (3-4) earned the win with five innings of scoreless relief, throwing 82 pitches after throwing 25 pitches the night before to get a save against Marist. In the five innings, Byrne allowed just three hits, walking two and striking out eight.
“There was going to get to a point where we weren’t going to be able to run him back out there,” O’Sullivan said. “But it is what it is. We had to win.”
Byrne said he was determined to finish the game, regardless of pitch count.
“I was hoping I could get the last couple of outs, the last outs of the game,” Byrne said. “No, I was not expecting to go just one or two, I was expecting to go the whole way.”
Florida junior righty Alex Faedo started, allowing one run in seven innings pitched before turning the ball over to Byrne with a runner on first in the eighth. Byrne was able to get out of a first-and-second jam in the eighth to keep the score tied at 1, then pitched the Gators deep into the night before they could rally in the 12th inning.
Both teams were forced to sit through a 38-minute lightning delay in the third inning. When play resumed, USF pulled lefty starter Shane McClanahan for righty Ryan Valdes. Florida, meanwhile, stuck with Faedo.
USF threatened in the bottom of the third, putting runners on first and third with one out, But USF shortstop Kevin Merrell, on an attempted drag bunt, popped out to first base for the second out. Faedo then struck out USF designated hitter Luke Borders to get out of the inning.
The Gators pushed their first run across in the fourth when Schwarz walked, moved to second on a groundout and scored on a Mike Rivera single, putting the Gators up 1-0.
But USF answered with a run in the fifth. Faedo hit Genord with one out, then Garrett Zech followed with a single. Duke Stunkel then lined an opposite-field single to left, scoring Genord to tie the score.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.