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Gators win sixth straight over Miami in season opener

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida starting pitcher Tommy Mace had a solid start Friday against Miami, allowing only one run on three hits in five innings, while striking out eight and issuing two walks. He left with a 4-1 lead.

Mother Nature rained on Florida’s parade Friday, but the Miami Hurricanes couldn’t. 

Following a two hour and 47-minute delay of their baseball stadium debut, the No. 1 Gators opened the 2021 season with a 7-5 win over their in-state rival. 

Behind a three-run fifth inning, a pair of homers and eight strikeouts from pitcher Tommy Mace, UF notched its 18th victory against Miami in the last 22 meetings.

"Tonight was pretty much what I expected," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I expected us to be a little anxious early on and then hopefully kind of settle in.

"I thought we got better as the game went on. I thought Tommy got better as the game went on. I thought our offense got better as the game went on."

The Gators took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Nathan Hickey hit the first home run in Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field. Kris Armstrong also homered in the eighth, a two-run bomb to right field.

Florida sophomore first baseman Kris Armstrong launches a missile over the right field berm for a two-run home run Friday and a 7-1 lead for the No. 1 Gators over No. 21 Miami at Florida Ballpark.

"That was big right there," Hickey said of his homer. "Under those lights especially, it was honestly unreal. That was an experience to remember forever."

Mace opened the night with two strikeouts, but got into trouble in the second with a leadoff double and a walk. Miami’s Christian Del Castillo evened the score with his RBI single to right, plating Yohandy Morales. 

Mace found himself in a jam the following inning with the bases loaded and the count at 3-0, but bore down and struck out Alex Toral. Mace was pumped as he came off the mound after getting out of that tough spot.

"I was excited to get that out for the team," he said. "That was a big momentum change for us."

"Tommy made the big pitch when he needed to, and that's what Friday night guys do. He kind of settled in in the fourth and fifth where he really started landing his breaking ball slider," O'Sullivan said of Mace, who racked up four more K's in the fourth and fifth before the Gators broke the tie. 

Jacob Young’s RBI single to right scored Josh Rivera, and then Hickey extended the lead to 4-1 with his RBI double down the right-field line to bring home Young and Kendrick Calilao.

"Obviously Nathan had a good night at the plate," O'Sullivan said. "You go into the season with all these expectations and everybody saying how good you are. And all of a sudden you say 'play ball' and you could almost feel the tension a little bit in the dugout. It just takes one guy to kind of get you going." 

UF pitcher Christian Scott took over in the sixth for Mace, who allowed three hits, one run and two walks on 90 pitches (56 strikes). In the bottom of the inning, Rivera legged out a triple into the right center gap and then scored with Calilao’s single that ricocheted off pitcher Jake Garland for an RBI.

The Hurricanes added four runs in the ninth on Del Castillo’s RBI double to right field and sac flies by Tony Jenkins and JP Gates. 

"At the end there needed to be more strikes, but it's baseball," Hickey said. "You come back the next day and you just grind it out."

Miami starter Daniel Federman finished with seven strikeouts, seven hits and four runs allowed in 4.1 innings pitched. Saturday’s matchup on the mound will be Florida’s Jack Leftwich against Miami standout freshman Alejandro Rosario. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. and live stream via SECNetwork+.

Note: The RBI single also extended Young’s hitting streak to 19 games over three seasons. Young’s streak (630 days) dates back to the second game of the 2019 Lubbock Regional.

Debut series

Who: No. 21 Miami (0-1) vs. No. 1 Florida (1-0

When: 1 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field

Pitching: UM righty Alejandro Rosario vs. UF right-hander Jack Leftwich

Tickets: All games of the Miami series are sold out.

Online: SECNetwork+

Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field made its debut Friday.