No. 14 Florida handles No. 2 Vanderbilt, 5-3

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida's Kirby McMullen hits an RBI single in the first inning Sunday against Vanderbilt at Florida Ballpark.

Having dropped the baseball series-opener Friday, No. 14 Florida again got the best of No. 2 Vanderbilt to claim the weekend series Sunday with a 5-3 victory at Florida Ballpark.

“Really proud of the way we played this weekend. Obviously it was a rough Friday night, and we’re playing a really good Vanderbilt team,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We swung the bats well the entire weekend.”

As they did in Saturday’s victory, the Gators (30-13, 13-8 SEC) built a first-inning lead behind RBIs from Kris Armstrong and Kirby McMullen following a 72-minute rain delay that pushed the game’s start to 4:12 p.m. 

“He was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said of Armstrong. “I thought Kris was outstanding all weekend long.”

UF gave up a rebound run in the second inning when Isaiah Thomas homered to left field off starter Hunter Barco (7-2), who tossed 100 pitches across 5.1 innings. Barco then struck out two of the next three batters.

Florida extended the lead to 4-1 in the third inning when Sterlin Thompson’s single scored Jud Fabian and Nathan Hickey. 

Jacob Young’s RBI single in the fifth gave Florida a 5-1 advantage with the series on the line. 

“I think we’ve all been kind of waiting for this team to have a weekend like this,” O’Sullivan said. “Now they hopefully know what it feels like and what it’s supposed to look like when you’re playing these types of teams, and it was just a really good weekend.”

After the Commodores (32-9, 14-7) got one run back in the fifth, Christian Scott took over for Barco and allowed another run to come across on two hits before getting the Gators out of the sixth, though the lead had been further trimmed. 

O’Sullivan opted to pull Scott after the sophomore out of Parkland allowed three hits in just 0.2 innings, bringing Trey Van Der Weide to the mound with UF clutching a two-run lead. His tenure on the mound would be shorter than Scott’s, however, as he tossed just eight pitches before Jack Leftwich entered to close the game for the Gators.

Leftwich quickly got Florida out of a jam, ensuring the lead would stay intact through seven innings, stranding two runners. Jordan Butler had an opportunity to add insurance runs in the seventh when Florida loaded the bases with two outs, but he was called out at first after hitting a grounder at the shortstop. 

The Gators couldn’t get anything going at the plate in the eighth either, but Leftwich struck out two in the ninth to secure the win with his second save and ensure UF captured its most impressive SEC series of the season after losing 11-7 on Friday before beating the Commodores 11-8 on Saturday. 

“If we could put up some zeroes, we knew we’d win,” Leftwich said, “because of the way the bats were doing. It was pretty awesome.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction for sure.”

Florida returns to the diamond Tuesday against Stetson, with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. at Florida Ballpark.

“I haven’t even thought about (who starts Tuesday),” O’Sullivan said. “My heart’s still pounding. That was an intense last three outs.”

Up next

Who: Stetson (23-17) at Florida (30-13)

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Live stream: SEC Network+

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

Florida's Kris Armstrong slides into second base Sunday with a run-scoring double in the first inning against Vanderbilt at Florida Ballpark.