No. 1 UF sweeps Rhode Island in dramatic fashion

Florida pitcher Tyler Dyson. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

After opening Saturday’s doubleheader with a 9-2 win against Rhode Island to clinch the series, the No.1-ranked Gators baseball team mounted a comeback in the ninth inning to complete the weekend sweep with a 3-2 victory over the Rams at McKethan Stadium.

“We had some good at-bats during the ninth inning. Until you come back in a game like that, you don’t know that you can do it,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Credit Rhode Island, they didn’t give us anything in the ninth.”

Florida made a personnel change on the mound, opting to flip starting pitchers Tyler Dyson and Jackson Kowar, with Dyson pitching in the first game likely due to being accustomed to the earlier starts that typically fall on Sundays. In the series-clinching game at 1 p.m., it was Austin Langworthy who got things going for UF (15-3) in the first inning, as his double down the line in left field provided the window for Nelson Maldonado and Wil Dalton to come across the plate. Despite the first two innings taking a considerable 48 minutes, Florida didn’t cool off at the plate. A four-run second inning, led by a pair of RBIs from third baseman Jonathan India, helped Florida stave off any comeback attempt by Rhode Island (2-11).

“I thought Tyler battled, maybe not his best today,” O’Sullivan said.

The conclusion of the doubleheader saw Florida struggle at the plate until the final stretch. Rhode Island struck first in the second inning on a home run from Sonny Ulliana, and a sacrifice fly in the ensuing inning from Maldonado would bring home Nick Horvath and pull the Gators even with the Rams.

It would be all square until Rhode Island loaded the bases in the seventh inning and took the lead back on a sacrifice fly of its own from Greg Cavaliere. Rhode Island appeared poised for the upset, until Deacon Liput, making just his fourth appearance of the season since returning Wednesday from suspension, hit an RBI single to center to score India, who had doubled, and tie the game up.

“It’s just going to take some games for him to get going,” O’Sullivan said of Liput. “He just missed a home run, too. And he played great defense the whole weekend.”

With two outs and two strikes, freshman Jordan Butler came in to pinch hit and singled to provide the walk-off winning run and avoid a monumental upset for the top-ranked Gators.

“He started me off with off-speed pitches, and then for some reason he came inside with a fastball, and I just got my hands inside and put it on the ground, put it in a spot where we could win,” Butler said of the final sequence. “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, because I haven’t really done anything yet here to get the crowd cheering like that. It was awesome.”

Despite giving up the pair of runs, Kowar turned in a dominant performance on the mound, at one point retiring 14 consecutive Rams, with eight on strikeouts, after Ulliana’s blast.

“I thought Jackson looked as sharp as he’s looked this whole year, so that’s really encouraging going forward as we get into SEC play,” O’Sullivan said. “

Brady Smith exited the first game in the fifth inning after suffering a jammed thumb and was replaced behind the plate by Cal Greenfield.

The Gators return to McKethan Stadium on Tuesday to host the Seminoles, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.