Florida Gators baseball shuts out Bethune-Cookman, secures fifth consecutive victory
Fresh off the program’s first SEC sweep on the road since May 18, 2019, the Florida baseball program picked up its fifth consecutive victory Tuesday with a 7-0 defeat of Bethune-Cookman University in UF’s penultimate midweek contest of the 2022 regular season.
“I think we’re in a position now where offensively we’re starting to hit our stride,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “And pitching-wise, it’s been good.”
It may have been a shutout, but UF (30-18, 11-13 SEC) still found itself in early danger.
The Wildcats (21-27, 15-9 SWAC) loaded the bases in the first inning after Tyler Nesbitt walked a pair of batters and allowed a hit, but the Gators got out unscathed after Jeremy Garcia hit one in the direction of UF shortstop Josh Rivera for the third out.
SEC play:Florida Gators baseball focused on strong finish heading into series with Kentucky
New name:UF baseball's Florida Ballpark renamed Condron Ballpark in honor of Gary Condron
Bethune-Cookman wouldn’t be so fortunate in the bottom half of the first.
UF’s lead-off batter Wyatt Langford walked and proceeded to score the game’s first run on a throwing error by shortstop Matthew Garcia, who was attempting to throw Sterlin Thompson out at first base.
Thompson may not have been credited with the RBI in the first inning, but he did bring runs across the plate in both the second and eighth inning as the Gators increased their advantage over their in-state counterpart. Thompson extended his on-base streak to 17 games.
Two days prior, Florida secured the sweep of Mississippi State with a four-run ninth inning that proved decisive after the Bulldogs plated a run in the bottom of the frame. As the Gators prepare to head to Missouri for the final road series of the regular season, UF appears to be peaking at the right time, though there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“I think this past weekend is the best we’ve played all year,” Langford said, “and hopefully we can just get even better heading into the postseason.”
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s contest.
Nick Ficarotta effective in extended relief appearance
Nesbitt made way for relief pitcher Nick Ficarrotta in the top of the fifth inning, and Ficarrotta made the most of his mid-game entrance on the mound.
After warming up in the bullpen in the third inning, Ficarrotta struck out six Wildcats and allowed just one hit across four complete innings to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.
With Nesbitt making his second start of the season as he works his way back from offseason Tommy John surgery, Ficarrotta intended to be available early into the contest.
Nesbitt would see his most action of the entire season, throwing 67 pitches, while Ficarrotta managed to toss 29 strikes across 34 pitches.
“I felt really good, just trying to get quick innings going,” Ficarrotta said. “We put a lot of emphasis on getting the lead-off guy, so you obviously want to go out right away and throw strikes.”
Bethune-Cookman can’t turn hits into runs
In the second meeting of the season between the two teams, the Gators improved to 15-1 against the Wildcats under O’Sullivan. UF gave up just one hit and secured a 3-2 win over Bethune-Cookman back on March 22. Despite having more success at the plate, the Wildcats couldn’t turn hits into runs Tuesday, resulting in the program’s 10th loss in 12 midweek contests this season.
Bethune-Cookman starting pitcher Alec Mendez fell to 0-2 after allowing three earned runs before exiting in the second inning. The Wildcats also fell to 0-5 in SEC contests this season.
O’Sullivan felt as if the contest was more competitive than the scoreboard indicated.
“Halfway through the game they had more hits than we did. That one inning they hit three balls hard, just didn’t have anything to show for it. Jonny does a good job with those guys, and we’ve been playing them since I’ve been here," O'Sullivan said of B-C coach Jonathan Hernandez. "They’re well-coached, and anybody can beat anybody in college baseball, it’s really that simple. We did just enough offensively, it opens up late, but credit their pitchers, too.”
Wildcats respect Langford at the plate
Langford reached base in all five appearances at the plate Tuesday night. Langford was walked four times and hit the game’s lone home run in the seventh inning to increase UF’s lead to 4-0.
The Gators ultimately secured the shutout, in turn increasing the program’s postseason odds. They may have taken lumps in conference play, but Langford said the Gators never lost perspective.
“We were obviously young this year, pitching-wise, so we knew it might take a little bit,” Langford said, “and it’s kind of showing off now, the progress some of these guys have made, and we’re playing a lot better. It’s nice to see.”