Palm trees bristled and clay clouded the air on Sunday in Coral Gables.
No, there were no windy thunderstorms or breezy afternoon flurries. There were, however, whooshing gusts caused by repeated swings and misses from both the Gators and the Hurricanes.
The teams combined for 24 strikeouts in Sunday’s series finale at Alex Rodriguez Park, but Miami notched some timely hits while No. 1 Florida left nine runners on base in its 2-0 loss. It was Florida’s first blemish of the season, although the Gators (7-1) still claimed the series with wins on Friday and Saturday. It was also UF’s first loss to Miami (3-4) since Feb. 22, 2016.
“We didn’t quite make an adjustment,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said in a release. “We had a tough time getting the leadoff man on and getting him to the stretch, but we just weren’t quite able to do that.”
The afternoon was rife with disappointment for the Gators, who couldn’t get clutch hits and, until the fifth inning, didn’t get any hits at all off UM starter Evan McKendry. The sophomore righty with a “U”-emblazoned, green-and-orange glove struck out eight, walked two and allowed two hits.
The first hit was one you may never see again if you watch 1,000 college baseball games.
It came in the fifth inning from shortstop Jonathan India. He sliced a ball straight up, and as it started to plummet back to Earth, Miami second baseman Willy Escala and first baseman Alex Toral converged at the pitcher’s mound.
McKendry darted out of the way, but Escala and Toral couldn’t decide who was going to secure the catch. Toral lunged for it and missed under the bright Miami sun and cratered into the clay before the ball plopped onto the grass. When Escala picked it up, India was already on second base with a double that barely passed the pitcher’s mound.
While that was an iconic moment in the game, what happened next was emblematic of Florida’s struggles.
The Gators had India on second base with no outs. They had momentum following their first hit of the game. Their response?
Line out. Fly out. Swinging strikeout.
“Credit McKendry,” O’Sullivan said. “He was really good today. He threw a lot of really good, quality off-speed pitches and located them down.”
That trend continued in the game’s later innings against Hurricanes reliever Andrew Cabezas.
In the seventh, three Florida hitters walked with two outs. Left fielder Austin Langworthy flew out to end the threat. In the eighth, right fielder Wil Dalton reached base on an error and got on second base with two outs. India grounded out. And in the ninth, first baseman Keenan Bell opened the game’s final frame with a leadoff single. The next two hitters struck out swinging, while shortstop Brady McConnell got caught looking to end the game.
“These are things you learn from,” said O’Sullivan, who wished his team was more aggressive. “You can talk about them and have intersquads, but until you’re actually in those situations… they’re learning points.”
Florida starter Tyler Dyson was perhaps the unluckiest person on the trip for the Gators. Despite allowing the fewest earned runs of any Florida starter this weekend (one) and tying for the most innings pitched (six), he was the only member of the trio to take a loss.
Dyson struck out eight and walked none in those six innings, with his only mishap coming in the bottom of the fifth.
After retiring the inning’s first two hitters on a pair of popups, Escala roped a double down the left-field line. Senior Michael Burns poked a ball down the line again on the next at-bat to plate Escala, who stomped on home plate with both feet while Burns whipped his arm at the UM dugout.
Florida was obviously unable to respond, which O’Sullivan is hoping won’t happen again this week with a home-and-home matchup against North Florida starting Tuesday in Jacksonville.
“These are lessons that we’re going to learn from and move forward,” O’Sullivan said.
Florida’s Offensive Struggles On Sunday
C JJ Schwarz: 0-for-3, 3 Ks
2B Blake Reese: 0-for-3, 1 K
CF Nick Horvath: 0-for-3, 3 Ks
RF Wil Dalton: 0-for-3, 1 K
DH Nelson Maldonado: 0-for-4, 1 K