With Missouri and Florida slated for a doubleheader on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium to beat expected rainstorms on Sunday, the Gators (32-6, 12-3 SEC) had an opportunity to earn their second sweep in three SEC series.
Though the final score wouldn’t reflect as much, the Tigers (24-12, 6-9 SEC) played Florida close well into the late stages of the game.
Missouri made the Gators sweat it out in the first inning. A leadoff single from center fielder Cade Bormet on the first pitch of the day was followed up immediately by Bormet stealing second. The throw from Gators catcher JJ Schwarz on the stolen base scooted into center field, allowing Bormet to race into third.
His luck would end there, however. As right fielder Trey Harris chopped a ball over to the left side of the infield, third baseman Jonathan India gloved it, noticed Bormet taking off for home and rifled it into the mitt of Schwarz, who tagged him out at the plate.
UF had no such trouble plating runs in the first. After a pair of quick outs to start the home half of the frame, India continued swinging his bat with a consistency that would make a veteran watchmaker jealous. On a 2-2 pitch, India roped a ball into the deepest part of right-center field and dashed into third with a triple to extend his hitting streak to 22 games.
After right fielder Wil Dalton was beaned with a pitch, Schwarz came through with a two-RBI double to put the Gators on the board.
The score remained 2-0 until the sixth, when the Tigers tied it up with a two-run double of their own down the right-field line. The runs proved to be the only blemish on starter Jackson Kowar’s day. The right-hander tossed seven innings and gave up six hits while striking out nine.
After getting one of those runs back in the bottom of the sixth, UF exploded for six more in the seventh, highlighted by a two-run bomb from designated hitter Nelson Maldonado over the
“National Champions” banner in left field. Relievers Andrew Baker and Tommy Mace combined to keep the Tigers hitless in the final two innings to seal the 10-2 win.
Much like the first game of the afternoon, Saturday’s late game featured a near stalemate until the closing innings. Missouri manufactured a run in the top of the third when it loaded the bases with one out. Left fielder Zach Hanna launched a high fly ball into center field that, while not deep enough to exit the ball park, was hit hard enough to score the runner from third for the game’s first run.
But once again, Florida immediately made up for the mistake in the bottom half of the frame when Schwarz drove in shortstop Deacon Liput from second to tie it up.
The Gators took a 2-1 lead an inning later with an RBI from first baseman Brady Smith via a sacrifice fly. As if consciously trying to mirror the previous game, the teams played out the next three innings without much offense from either side until the bottom of the eighth. After closer Michael Byrne pitched a scoreless top half of the inning, his offense looked to give him an insurance run or two.
It got five.
The first five batters all recorded hits, culminating in a gargantuan home run from Maldonado that soared past the visiting bullpen and into the palm trees beyond the stadium’s outer wall. Missouri had to use three different pitchers to get out of the inning.
Byrne proceeded to earn his 10th save of the year, but only after giving up his first homer of the 2018 campaign.