Florida takes key series from No. 3 Ole Miss
Nathan Hickey’s three RBIs and Jacob Young’s three runs helped the No. 15-ranked Florida baseball team secure the series over No. 3 Ole Miss with Saturday’s 6-5 win in the rubber match at Florida Ballpark.
“There’s never a must-win other than you get towards the latter part of the year, and you see how things unfold, but it was a game where — we got swept last week and certainly you don’t want to lose a series at home,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “And then you’re fighting an uphill battle when you go to Tennessee next weekend. So it was an important game for us, no question, but hopefully this game will jumpstart us a little bit.”
The Gators (18-9, 5-4 SEC) got the scoring started in the first inning when Kirby McMullen sent a sacrifice fly ball deep to left field, scoring Jacob Young, who had reached base on a leadoff walk.
Young scored UF’s second run as well after hitting a triple to center field and scoring on Hickey's sacrifice fly, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead. Jordan Carrion’s first career home run made it 3-0 in the fourth inning.
The Rebels (21-6, 7-2) would get two runs back in the fifth inning after loading the bases with no outs.
But it wouldn’t take long for the Gators to further extend the lead after Ole Miss’ brief surge.
After Young singled, Hickey then sent one sailing over the fence to give the Gators a 5-2 advantage.
“Nathan, his home run, it was a hanging breaking ball,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought we did a better job putting the ball in play. Obviously there was a ton of strikeouts last night, but they bounced back today.”
Florida wasn’t done creating some mid-game breathing room either.
Ocala native Sterlin Thompson hit a triple to center after Hickey’s two-run shot, bringing Jordan Butler to the plate. Expecting Butler to hit a sacrifice bunt after two strikes, the Rebels’ infield moved up and got in position, but Butler smacked a single between the first and second-basemen to score Thompson and hand the Gators a 6-2 lead after five innings.
Once again, however, Ole Miss wouldn’t fold with the series on the line.
Hayden Dunhurst’s triple in the seventh inning brought two runs across the plate, pulling the Rebels to within a run.
The Gators looked as if they’d get out of the inning without further damage done when Ben Van Cleve was thrown out at first after his bunt landed in fair territory and bounced inside the third-base line, but the umpire ruled it foul, much to O’Sullivan’s surprise.
Instead of getting to the bottom of the inning, O’Sullivan opted to move Carrion to the mound in place of Van Der Weide, who had replaced Hunter Barco after 5.0 innings from the Jacksonville native. Carrion managed to get the Gators out of the inning, keeping the one-run lead intact.
“He came up to me on Thursday night and wanted the ball late when I was in the dugout,” O’Sullivan said of Carrion. “He’s just a baseball player: he’s going to throw strikes and he’s competitive. You don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but I did feel good with the effort he was going to give in a tight ball-game like that. He had a heckuva game, he had his first home run and came in and played short to start the game, and finished the game at second, and ended up giving us some real quality runs at the end of the game.”
Barco allowed three runs across six hits before exiting after having thrown 88 pitches, of which 55 were strikes.
O’Sullivan made one final pitching change in the ninth inning, bringing on Ryan Cabarcas, who secured both the final two outs of the afternoon and the series for UF.
The Gators return Tuesday to Florida Ballpark to take on Stetson University, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.
“We need to learn how to win close games like that. I don’t know how many one-run games there’s been, maybe two the whole year, so it was important for us to kind of close the door and change the mojo of those close games,” O’Sullivan said. “Everybody’s got work to do. Everybody in the league can beat anybody on any given day, no one’s a finished product at this point, but it was an important win for us today.”
Who: Stetson at Florida
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Live stream: SEC Network+