Third base felt like home for Mike Rivera on Wednesday night.
Normally a catcher or designated hitter for the No. 1 Gators, Rivera found himself starting at the hot corner in Florida’s second game of a home-and-home against North Florida.
He made the most of it.
Rivera’s sound defense and early three-RBI triple gave the Gators just enough to take home a 5-4 win over the Ospreys at McKethan Stadium.
"We need to get our offense going a little bit more," said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan, whose team managed just seven hits on the night, "… but at the end of the day, good teams find a way to win."
Small ball and patience at the plate set the stage for Rivera’s big hit in the bottom of the first.
A Buddy Reed fielder’s choice, a Peter Alonso walk and a Deacon Liput two-out single loaded the bases for the sophomore with the Gators.
Facing a full count and a 1-0 deficit to the Ospreys, Rivera laced a Zach Drury fastball to the wall in left-center field. As his three teammates raced toward home plate, Rivera hustled along the basepaths before sliding safely into third for his first triple of the season.
"I knew he didn’t want to walk me this early in the game, so I was just hunting fastballs," Rivera said.
While Rivera’s offense gave the Gators (14-1) the initial lead, his defense at third base was a critical factor in preserving it.
Rivera, who played third base during his stint with the USA Under-18 national team during his high school playing days, cleanly fielded all five balls hit his way with ease before moving to catcher in the eighth, including one in the fifth that allowed the sophomore to show off his arm and defensive prowess.
With two outs in the fifth, UNF shortstop Kyle Brooks hit a dribbler that skirted along the third-base line. Rivera scooped up the ball behind the third-base bag and fired it across the diamond to first baseman Peter Alonso to end the frame.
His defense carried over when he moved behind the plate. With two outs in the ninth and UNF’s potential game-tying run on third, Rivera fielded a Shaun Anderson ball in the dirt well off the plate to avoid passing the ball during Keith Skinner’s final at-bat. Anderson forced him to ground out a couple pitches later to end the game.
"That was a game-saving play behind the plate there," O’Sullivan said.
Mark Kolozsvary tacked on to Florida’s score in the second when the catcher belted a fastball over the left-field fence for his second home run of the year.
A JJ Schwarz infield single that scored Dalton Guthrie in the seventh proved to be the deciding factor.
North Florida (6-8) opened scoring in the first inning when right fielder Nick Karmeris hit a single through the right side to score Brooks from second base. The Ospreys added two more runs on Corbin Olmstead RBI doubles in the third and eighth innings and then cut their deficit to 5-4 on a Christian Diaz RBI groundout later in the eighth.
On the mound, UF freshman Jackson Kowar earned the win after pitching six innings of two-run ball. The 6-foot-5 righty gave up four hits and a walk while striking out four batters, and at one point retired nine-straight batters.
Florida continues its nine-game homestand on Friday against Harvard, the start of the Gators’ final weekend series before Southeastern Conference play. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.