JACKSONVILLE — Dugout-clearing fights tend to draw attention. Ones that involve a Heisman-winning quarterback become national news.
For seven innings, The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville seemed remarkably quiet for an in-state matchup between No. 1 Florida State (19-5, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Florida (16-9, 3-3 Southeastern Conference). The Gators used error-free defense and dominant pitching to jump out to a three-run lead.
Then, a push turned this normal midweek game into an overblown story. Seminoles’ left fielder D.J. Stewart collided with left-hander Danny Young while hustling out a dribbler down the first-base line. Gators' first baseman Zack Powers got in Stewart's face to defend his pitcher and was then shoved in the chest by the FSU sophomore.
Dugouts emptied. Coaches and police officers held players back from turning the fracas into an all-out brawl. A photo from The Florida Times-Union showed an officer holding back Jameis Winston. The Sun Sports television broadcast provided the best view. Powers, Stewart and Young received ejections. The stadium buzzed with the latest pleasantries exchanged by these in-state rivals.
Florida withstood a ninth-inning Seminoles’ rally to clinch the season series with a 4-1 win. Jose Brizuela led off the inning with a home run into deep right center and Brett Knief followed with a single until UF closer Ryan Harris converted his fourth save this season.
“There’s no doubt that the testosterone and the adrenaline kicked in. Those men are very strong and very active,” Florida State coach Mike Martin Sr. said. “The hands got a little quicker. The motivation rose. Just very proud of our baseball team, and the way that we fought. We certainly didn’t back down from anything, and that makes every Seminole proud, because that’s what we’re about.”
Florida made no secrets what it is about with its win — pitching, defense and opportunistic hitting. It started in the first inning when the Gators didn’t waste any time getting to Seminoles starter Peter Miller. The Gators loaded the bases without swinging the bat when Miller couldn’t find his command.
They sent seven to the plate. Braden Mattson singled in Casey Turgeon on a blooper that dropped into shallow right field. Florida added two more in the sixth inning on a throwing error by Miller while fielding a bunt from Justin Shafer and a fielding error by Gage Smith on a bunt from freshman John Sternagel, who drove in Florida’s fourth run on a single to center in the eighth.
The middle relief stepped up for the Gators again as Miller buckled down on the mound. Danny Young threw 2.2 scoreless innings before the incident.
“We’re fast and we can bunt well,” Mattson said facetiously about UF’s opportunistic offense. “When you can’t hit, you’ve got to bunt. It’s what we’ve been doing.”
Shafer, making his first pitching appearance since Feb. 19 and his first start in 2014, tossed four scoreless innings against Florida State, giving up two hits. He was around the plate all night.
“To hold an offense like Florida State to no runs over four innings and he didn’t pitch in a while? I think that’s pretty darn good,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan earned his second victory in 10 tries against Florida State at a neutral site.
Tuesday marked the second time in a week that UF defeated top-ranked FSU.
These two will face again in Tallahassee on April 8. The Gators clinched the season series for the first time since 2012 when they last swept the Seminoles.
“They got a good team. We got a good team. You never want to see something like that little scrap happen,” Sternagel said.
“It’s such a good rivalry. Good clubs. Man, it was fun. This place was rocking. It was sweet to be a part of.”
Editor's Note: The print version included that Powers initiated the shoving. We edited the story online to clarify that Powers got in Stewart's face but Stewart was the first to shove.
Follow Adam Pincus on Twitter @adamDpincus