Florida baseball: Gators down Jacksonville Dolphins, 1-0, in first game of midweek series

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Kendrick Calilao’s RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be the difference in Tuesday’s defensive battle between in-state programs as No. 10-ranked Florida baseball defeated Jacksonville University, 1-0, at Florida Ballpark. 

The Gators had six hits but nothing to show for it before Calilao’s single to left field scored Wyatt Langford and broke the deadlock. 

Kris Armstrong, batting just .182 heading into the contest, raked as many hits as the entire Dolphins lineup with a 3-of-3 performance at the plate to up his hitting percentage to .229 on the season. 

Ryan Slater secured the win for the Gators after taking the mound in the third inning. He'd allow a lone hit across five innings before making way for Nick Ficarrota. 

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"We kind of felt like it would be a one-run game," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It was a really clean game, but we needed to be that way for us to win."

The Gators and Dolphins were to return to Florida Ballpark at 6 p.m. Wednesday to conclude the midweek series. Unlike Florida, JU is not on spring break, meaning the Dolphins traveled home after the contest so players could attend class Wednesday before making the return trip to Gainesville. 

Florida's Wyatt Langford (36) with high-fives from teammates after he scores a run off Kendrick Calilao's  single in the bottom of sixth inning Tuesday against Jacksonville, at Florida Ballpark.

Here are 3 takeaways from Tuesday’s contest. 

Return of Tyler Nesbitt

Right-hander Tyler Nesbitt made the start for the Gators and allowed just one hit across two innings while striking out three Jacksonville batters in his long-awaited return to the mound. 

But it was far from a typical outing. Pre-game, Nesbitt wasn't his usual calm self, though it was for good reason. "I was nervous the first inning," he said. "The second inning I felt a lot more settled-down, and everything felt a lot more smooth."

The third-year freshman hadn’t competed for the Gators in exactly 751 days after season-ending Tommy John surgery in late February of the 2021 season kept him out the entire year.

O’Sullivan intends to bring Nesbitt along slowly, hence the light load in his season debut. A gradual buildup might not have been what Nesbitt wanted to hear initially, but Tuesday's performance indicated it's a wise idea for him to come along slowly. Nesbitt acknowledged he was a tad achy after tossing 29 pitches.

"I felt like I could (continue) in the moment, but afterwards I was getting a little sore," Nesbitt said. "I think it's 15 pitches every outing added. Next time should be 40 to 45, today it was 30 to 35."

Nesbitt isn't the only Gator making his return to the bullpen in the week before Florida opens conference play. Redshirt sophomore pitcher Nick Pogue, Nesbitt's "rehab partner" from Tommy John surgery, is expected to make his season debut on the mound in Florida's upcoming weekend series against winless Seton Hall. 

"I love it for him," Nesbitt said of Pogue. "I really hope he comes back and does great. He's helped me a lot through this journey, and I just hope the best for him."

Colby Halter extends his hitting streak

Colby Halter’s hot start at the plate continued Tuesday against his hometown team. 

The Jacksonville native’s consecutive hit streak reached 16 games and counting in the bottom of the third inning against the Dolphins when Halter laid down a bunt along the third-base line. Halter would advance to second on a throwing error — JU’s lone error of the night — with Kris Armstrong heading to third, though the Gators wouldn’t get any runs across the plate after Jud Fabian struck out swinging and Sterlin Thompson proceeded to line out to center field. 

Halter would go 0-for-3 the rest of the way. Thompson’s 13-game hitting streak would reach its conclusion with an 0-for-4 night at the plate. 

Strong start from Michael Darrell-Hicks 

He may have been tagged with the loss, but Jacksonville starting pitcher Michael Darrell-Hicks had an impressive showing in Gainesville. Darrell-Hicks, who transferred to the program after four seasons at Western Kentucky, allowed five hits and struck out three Gators in five and two-thirds of an inning of work against the Gators.

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The graduate transfer pitcher had already exited for Park Murphy prior to Florida’s run coming across, but Darrell-Hicks was still tagged with the run as a result of the graduate transfer walking Langford just before his departure. 

"We knew coming in their starter was really good, really talented," O'Sullivan said. "We talked to the team about that — that this was not one of those games that was going to be easy."