Florida routs Samford, 18-2

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida's Nathan Hickey hit a grand slam Saturday to help the Gators roll.

Jack Leftwich struck out six batters and allowed just two hits and Nathan Hickey hit a grand slam to propel the No. 7 Gators to a series-clinching 18-2 win Saturday over Samford at Florida Ballpark. 

“We got a lot of contributions tonight from a lot of different people,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The game got kind of out of hand score-wise tonight, but it’s certainly not indicative of the team that Samford is, and they’re certainly a reasonable-type team, things just got away from them in the middle innings.”

Florida (5-2) started strong before the late surge at the plate, building a 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to RBIs from Nathan Hickey, Jordan Butler and Mac Guscette, but the Bulldogs weren’t about to fold early and easily. 

Kaden Dreier hit a solo home run in the fifth to put Samford on the scoreboard, but the Gators made sure to get it back in the bottom half of the inning. 

Hickey hit a triple that smacked off the wall in center field, and Butler would score him thanks to a throwing error on the Bulldogs, pushing Florida’s lead back to three runs. 

Yet Samford (3-3) wouldn’t go away. 

Sonny Dichiara sent one sailing in the sixth for Samford’s second home run of the afternoon to cut Florida’s lead to 4-2, at which time coach Kevin O’Sullivan called on Christian Scott to warm-up in the bullpen as Leftwich passed the 80-pitch mark. Leftwich would exit having pitched 5.2 innings, with the two solo shots serving as the only damage allowed. 

Scott would give up a base hit against the first batter he faced, but Samford would do no more damage as UF got out of the inning having been battered yet still in front. 

Then came Hickey’s decisive blast that effectively erased any hopes of a Samford comeback bid. 

With two outs and runners on second and third, Samford walked Jud Fabian, who had hit three home runs of his own since Wednesday, to load the bases and bring Hickey to the plate. 

He left little doubt as to whether or not it would make it over the center-field fence, subsequently putting Florida firmly in front, 9-2. 

“His numbers were good last year, I think it was just a typical freshman weekend last year, where he just got locked up. He is really sharp,” O’Sullivan said of Hickey. “Offensively, we got going there. Obviously I thought Nathan had a good night at the plate.”

Just to be certain of the emphatic victory, the Gators added eight runs to their total in the seventh inning to extend the lead to 17-2. An RBI single by Kris Armstrong brought home Kendrick Calilao to cap Florida’s scoring. 

David Luethje took over for Scott on the mound in the eighth to close the game for the Gators and give UF its largest margin of victory this season in its new ballpark. 

“It was good to get David Luethje out there for his first appearance,” O’Sullivan said, “and Christian Scott continues to do his job.” 

The Gators will look to extend their winning streak to five games when they go for the sweep Sunday against Samford, with first pitch set for 1 p.m.

Sunday

Who: Samford (3-3) vs. No. 7 Florida (5-2) 

When: 1 p.m.

Where: Florida Ballpark

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

Pitching matchup: Samford - RHP Zach Hester (0-0) vs. UF LHP Hunter Barco (0-1)