With that distinctive noise of aluminum meeting cork, yarn and hide that can only mean college baseball, the ball rainbowed through the air. Its journey ended when it landed deep in left center field, past the wall and near the parking lot. Florida first baseman JJ Schwarz had been trotting since it left his bat.
On a chilly Jacksonville evening, a nagging breeze danced across Dusty Rhodes Field at Harmo…
The no-doubt homer broke a fifth-inning tie and gave the Gators a two-run lead over North Florida. Shortstop Jonathan India was up next, and he started by taking a ball.
Once again, the ball sailed into left field, and UNF’s Raff Libunao stopped running after it. A fan wearing black shorts and a blue T-Shirt lunged for it, but it landed in the protective netting blocking lasers like it from reaching the parking lot.
Second baseman Blake Reese followed India with a single, which brought freshman third baseman Brady Smith to the batter’s box. Smith entered the game hitting a team-worst .111 and was down in the count 0-1 on his third at-bat on Wednesday night.
One more time, the ball rocketed through the air, this time on a line-drive trajectory, and blasted into the bleachers right of the foul pole.
No. 1 Florida (9-1) used those three fifth-inning blasts to cruise past the visiting North Florida Ospreys 8-3 to sweep their two-game midweek series.
“All in all,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, “we had a chance to get some other guys in there to pitch and to play, and for the most part it was a clean game.”
Power was the story of the evening for the Gators, who saw India hit another homer in addition to his fifth inning shot. It came on the first at-bat in Florida’s half of the second, and it landed in McKethan Stadium’s right field bullpen.
Every Florida starter aside from its bottom two hitters — center fielder Nick Horvath and catcher Cal Greenfield — collected at least one hit, and five Gators had multiple. Shane Shifflett was the only player aside from the home run trio to collect and RBI.
“We’re more mature this year as a team,” India said of Florida’s so-far consistent offense. “I just think we’re back where we usually hit. We feel good at the plate.”
Freshman righty Tommy Mace made his first college start against the Ospreys (3-6). He tossed 3.2 innings and allowed two hits, an earned run and struck out two.
His outing started rough. Mace, who’d thrown six scoreless innings of relief coming into the contest, allowed UNF’s two-hole hitter Tanner Murphy to blast his 14th pitch over the wall in deep left center.
“I wasn’t too stressed out,” said a shoulder-slumping Mace after the game.
It showed, as he settled in and sent down hitter after hitter from that point on. His only other blemish came on a botched throw to first from second baseman Blake Reese that allowed a runner to score from second.
A quartet of fellow underclassmen relieved Mace, starting with sophomore southpaw Andrew Baker. He pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless ball with five of his seven outs recorded via strikeout.
“I felt really good today. I have no idea why,” Baker said. “Maybe it was the meal we had before the game.”
Freshman Hunter McMullen, who — like Mace — was unscathed in relief appearances entering Wednesday, was next. He loaded the bases and allowed a run, but he escaped with fairly minimal damage.
Sophomore Austin Langworthy, who usually starts in left field, pitched a perfect eighth before moving to his usual spot for the ninth. Sophomore Nick Long finished the Ospreys with a scoreless ninth and preserved the win for Baker.
“Pleased would be an understatement,” O’Sullivan said of the early success from his young arms.
With renewed momentum following their first loss of the season on Sunday against Miami, the Gators will welcome the Stony Brook Seawolves to Gainesville for a three-game series starting on Friday.