Baseball: Ocala's Jud Fabian lifts Florida Gators to 3-2 victory over Bethune-Cookman
After a long trip back home from Tuscaloosa following Florida's opening conference series win over the weekend and its first SEC series at home on the horizon, all the ingredients were there for a trap game when the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats came into Florida Ballpark on Tuesday night.
While the eighth-ranked Gators baseball team had to battle back from early blunders, they secured a 3-2 win to improve to 16-5 on the season.
Here are takeaways from the Gators' midweek matchup with the Wildcats.
Malik Stephens steals home
Florida found itself in trouble early as redshirt sophomore Nick Pogue walked the Wildcats' leadoff in redshirt junior Malik Stephens, who went on to steal second.
Bethune-Cookman followed with back-to-back foul-outs off the bats of Matthew Garcia and Chris Patterson, whose foul allowed Stephens to advance to the doorstep, bringing him closer to catching the Gators off guard.
After Pogue walked his second batter of the night in freshman Irvin Escobar, Stephens caught UF sophomore catcher Mac Guscette on his heels and stole home as Guscette passed the ball back to the mound.
"I think it caught everybody by surprise," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Lesson learned, but (Stephens) can really run ... doesn't happen very often."
Following the Wildcats' opening score, Pogue threw a four-pitch walk to Brian Perez, which led the Gators to look to the bullpen and bring in redshirt freshman Nick Ficarrotta. Pogue, who is back after undergoing Tommy John surgery prior to the start of last season, finished his night after just 0.2 innings of action, one run and four walks.
"It's hard," O'Sullivan said. "This is not an easy thing to come back from. Normally, in a perfect world, you go through all your rehab and stuff in the offseason and then you have the opportunity to throw in some inner-squad games. But he hasn't had that opportunity."
Jud Fabian rakes a pair out of the yard
Florida finally found its way to the scoreboard via some fourth-inning small ball as Guscette put down a one-out bunt to score freshman Ty Evans from third base.
But the Gators' pair of runs that followed were far from small ball.
Florida's junior centerfielder Jud Fabian led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a bang as the Ocala native sent a solo shot over the left field field wall, helping the Gators tie the game at two runs apiece.
"I hit leadoff my sophomore year and loved it," Fabian said.
When Fabian's next at-bat rolled around, he was once again leading off and once again sent a pitch out of the yard, giving him his seventh multi-home-run-game of his career.
Tuesday night's pair of homers brought Fabian's season total to 10 home runs and his career total to 42, which gives him sole possession of the sixth-most career home runs in program history.
"I'm not really focused on any amount or number of homers," Fabian said. "Just kinda doing anything I can to help this team win and get better every day. And today was a good day for me."
Young pitchers lead Gators
O'Sullivan knew ahead of time that some of the younger arms in his bullpen would get action on Tuesday night.
"I knew this was not going to be an easy game," O'Sullivan said. "And I knew we were going to have to throw some freshmen."
After Pogue's rocky start, the Gators used four freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the bump.
Ficarrotta shouldered a majority of the load against the Wildcats, working for 4.1 innings and giving up the only hit of the night. Ficarrotta tallies a pair of strikeouts through 14 at-bats and 68% of his pitches went for strikes.
On the heels of Ficarrotta was redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt, who, like Pogue, is also coming back from Tommy John surgery. Pogue tallied one full inning of action that saw him walk one and strike out two.
Rookie lefty Philip Abner got two innings of work for the Gators and faced just five at-bats as he walked one and struck out a pair.
The last to appear on the mound on Wednesday was freshman righty Karl Hartman, who impressed O'Sullivan with his one-inning performance.
"You've got the tying run on third base and a 3-2 count and coach is calling a curveball, and he lands it," O'Sullivan said of Hartman's final at-bat. "That's some pretty good pitching in a huge spot there."
Harman finished the night having face just four batters, walking one and striking out two.
Following the Gators' midweek win, they'll prepare to host the LSU Tigers for their first home SEC series of the season. Game 1 gets underway on Friday night at 7.
Meanwhile, Bethune-Cookman looks to return to the win column when it hosts an in-conference battle with Alabama State this weekend starting Friday at 7 p.m.