JACKSONVILLE — It should’ve been a sign.
Already up by one in the top of the first inning, Florida catcher Mike Rivera cranked a ball up and over the left field fence, but it landed a few feet foul. He didn’t even leave the batter’s box.
The junior stepped back in, took a few pitches and smacked one again, this time placing it just out of reach of FSU left fielder Jackson Lueck and just over the left field wall for his first home run of the season.
It was all the Gators needed to down the Seminoles for the fourth straight time, this time taking the game 4-1 on Tuesday night in Jacksonville. It was Florida’s ninth win in its last 10 games against Florida State.
“I really can’t explain it,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of UF’s recent dominance in the series. “I really don’t have an answer. I don’t.”
Rivera’s homer was the decisive blow, but it wasn’t the first.
That distinction belongs to Deacon Liput, who opened the game with a leadoff walk. After designated hitter Dalton Guthrie followed him with a single to center field, first baseman JJ Schwarz knocked in the game’s first run with a single to right field.
That set up Rivera, who came up with two outs and Guthrie and Schwarz still on base.
“That was huge,” Rivera said of his homer.
Outside the first inning, though, Florida couldn’t muster anything off FSU starter Andrew Karp or the Seminoles’ bullpen. Nevertheless, Karp took his second loss of the season. Both losses are against the Gators.
Meanwhile, Florida starter Garrett Milchin picked up the first win of his career in his first-ever start. The freshman stifled the Seminoles in front of the 8,924 fans at the Jacksonville Baseball Grounds in his 4.1 innings, allowing no earned runs, striking out one and walking three.
“I’ll be honest with you,” O’Sullivan said. “I think I made a mistake not pitching him more.”
Fellow freshman Nate Brown relieved Milchin, not lasting long after allowing Florida State’s only run of the game. It happened after FSU first baseman Quincy Nieporte grounded a ball just past the glove of diving third baseman Jonathan India and into left field. Nieporte chugged into second and waited for FSU right fielder Rhett Aplin to deliver.
Aplin did — sort of. He grounded a playable ball to second baseman Deacon Liput, who couldn’t quite glove it but slowed it down enough for Nieporte to score.
The run was the first for FSU against Florida in 37 innings and marked the end of Brown’s day.
From there, sophomore Michael Byrne shut the door, throwing 3.2 nearly perfect innings — he allowed one hit in the bottom of the ninth — to secure the win and pick up a save.
“We came here last year, but I didn’t get to play,” Byrne said. “It was nice getting the W then, too, but it’s even better now.”
The win gives the Gators momentum ahead of a weekend road series against Missouri, which begins on Friday. O’Sullivan was especially encouraged by the strides his team’s offense has made after a lackluster start to the season.
“I didn’t anticipate us coming out of the gate so slow, but the good thing for us is the guys have kinda kept their heads up,” he said. “We’re showing signs of the offense I thought we could be.”