No. 1 Gators sweep past Missouri in taking SEC series

Nelson Maldonado celebrates his home run in the bottom of the seventh inning against Missouri in Game 2 of the weekend series, at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

Florida has hit the halfway point of the SEC baseball schedule playing at a high level.

The No. 1 Gators completed a doubleheader sweep with a 7-2 win over Missouri on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium. Florida won Game 1 of the twinbill 10-2 earlier Saturday afternoon.

Florida (32-6, 12-3 SEC) has won nine of its last 10 league games and 13 of its last 14 overall.

“To be 12-3 halfway through, you’ve got to be pleased with where you’re at,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to go to a tough place next week on a short week with Kentucky, but I was really pleased with the effort we played with all day long. It’s hard to play two games in one day.”

A crowd of 5,820, many filtering in from UF’s spring football game, showed up for Game 1 of the doubleheader while 3,955 stayed for Game 2. The overall attendance total of 15,987 for the three-game series was the third most in school history.

“It definitely was a factor (in the sweep),” O’Sullivan said.

Senior catcher JJ Schwarz continued his recent tear during the doubleheader, going a combined 5 for 7 with a home run and four RBIs. Junior third baseman Jonathan India also had hits in both games to extend his hitting streak to 23 straight games.

“I’m just trying to get balls over the plate, and what I’ve been doing is putting them in play, instead of fouling them off,” Schwarz said. “It was a good weekend. It was a good doubleheader today and everyone is swinging the bats really well.”

Righty Tyler Dyson (5-2) made it through five innings, despite issues with his command, to earn the win in the nightcap. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore walked three and struck out six, allowing a run on four hits. Of his 102 pitches, 60 were for strikes.

Freshman lefty Jordan Butler followed with two scoreless innings of relief and junior righty Michael Byrne finished off the game allowing one run in two innings for his 10th save of the season.

Missouri jumped ahead 1-0 on a sac fly by left fielder Zach Hanna in the top of the third, but the Gators answered in the bottom of the third, tying the score at 1 on a Schwarz RBI double.

The Gators took a 2-1 lead in the fourth thanks to some aggressive baserunning. With one out, junior center fielder Nick Horvath laced an RBI double down the left field line. Hanna was unable to field the ball cleanly as it rattled in the corner, and Horvath raced for third, taking the base as the throw came in late. First baseman Brady Smith followed with a sac fly to deep center.

Florida rallied for five big insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth on a Blake Reese RBI single, Horvath two-RBI double and two-run homer from first baseman Keenan Bell.

Florida broke open a close game with six runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the first game of the doubleheader. The Gators sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning, roughing up Missouri relief pitchers Jordan Gubelman and Luke Anderson. Nelson Maldonado belted his sixth home run of the season during the frame, a two-run shot that put the Gators up 7-2. Bell and Wil Dalton added RBI doubles during the inning.

Schwarz went 2 for 3 with 3 RBIs in the first game, putting Florida ahead 2-0 early with a two-RBI double in the first inning. Then, with the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the sixth, Schwarz delivered the go-ahead home run, launching a 1-1 pitch from Missouri lefty starter Tyler LaPlante into the left field bleachers. It was Schwarz’ ninth home run of the season and second in the last two games.

That was more than enough support for Florida junior righty Jackson Kowar (6-1). Kowar allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings, walking one and striking out nine. Of Kowar’s 93 pitches, 59 were for strikes. Kowar allowed four hits over his first two innings, then just two hits in the remaining five innings.

“My change-up is better than it’s been the last couple of weeks, had a lot more depth than it has, and that’s why I was getting a couple of more swings and misses on that which was nice,” Kowar said.

Missouri (24-12, 6-9 SEC) left a combined 15 runners on base in both games.

Up next

Who: Jacksonville vs. No. 1 Florida

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: McKethan Stadium