Kevin O’Sullivan and Frank Leoni walked toward one another and shook hands, officially concluding a day of tarp slip-and-slides, fake deer hunting and just more than five innings of baseball.
The head coaches of Florida (7-1) and William & Mary (2-5) called it a day after rain shortened the weekend finale, giving the No. 1 Gators a 5-3 victory and a series sweep.
“We did enough,” O’Sullivan said. “We weren’t really sharp this weekend; we got a lot of things we got to work on.”
For Florida, a nearly hour-long rain delay was a fitting end to a strange game.
After first pitch was moved from 1 p.m. to 12:35 p.m., starting right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson took the mound and immediately looked uncomfortable. He lasted just 13 pitches, getting an early mound visit and then being pulled two batters later after an RBI single by Tribe first baseman Michael Katz.
Whitson’s fastball velocity was down to the high 80s from his usual mid-90s, but O’Sullivan said it was more a case of getting his arm back where it needs to be after missing a portion of the fall with a groin injury.
“You can tell he wasn’t feeling his best,” O’Sullivan said. “You’ll see that, you’ll see early-season stuff where the arm just doesn’t bounce back as quick as you want. I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
After Whitson’s brief outing, UF relievers Steven Rodriguez and Jonathon Crawford finished the game by throwing a combined five innings of three-hit ball.
Once again, Florida’s offense did just enough to get the win. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana opened the scoring for the Gators with a two-run homer off the scoreboard in right, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker picked up his fifth homer of the season on a blast that went over the scoreboard and across Stadium Road.
“Obviously there’s still things to improve on, as an individual and as a team,” Tucker said.
Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer also pitched in with a 2-for-2 showing. He singled in the third before scoring on Fontana’s home run and then doubled in Austin Maddox and Cody Dent one inning later.
“I’m finally feeling comfortable at the plate,” Shafer said. “Being in this kind of atmosphere is something to get used to from being in high school.”
With two outs and a 2-0 count on Tribe shortstop Josh Mason in the top of the sixth, the heavy rain became too much for home plate umpire Cory Gottsegen and the game was put into a weather delay.
Before the delay was over, players from both teams took full advantage of an opportunity to let loose. First, messages written on baseballs tossed back and forth between dugouts led to UF backup catcher Brandon Sedell stripping down to compression shorts and joining a William & Mary coach in a slip-and-slide duel.
Then, after two Tribe players danced around with baseball pants over their heads and arms, three Gators used the center-field camera tower as a makeshift tree stand and “hunted” Fontana and freshman reliever Aaron Rhodes, who crawled around like deer.
“My heart, I’m dead,” Fontana said, joking about where he had been shot. “There was Zach Powers out there on the sniper stand. We were just having fun.”
Florida opened the weekend by beating William & Mary 4-1 on Friday night, but the weekend was highlighted by a 5-1 victory Saturday when Tucker broke the UF career RBI record with a home run.