A baseball cruised through the air and fell down just inside the right-field line as a stampede of Mississippi State Bulldog baseball players circled the bases, finally coming to rest after plating two runs.
MSU center fielder Jake Mangum’s two-RBI triple off UF closer Michael Byrne in the eighth inning would go on to give Mississippi State a lead it would not relinquish. The Bulldogs (29-24, 13-15 SEC) took the first of a three-game series by a final score of 6-3 on Thursday night in Starkville, Mississippi.
In his only inning of work, Byrne gave up three runs, two earned, on three hits. He couldn’t hit his spots against the seven batters he faced and didn’t pick up a single strikeout.
This isn’t the first time Byrne produced shaky results toward the end of a season, either. Even though Florida would go on to win the NCAA Championship last year, the right hander began to look shaky during the tournament.
In the Gators’ Super Regional series against Wake Forest, Byrne earned a loss in one of three games and gave the Demon Deacons their only run in another, which sent the game to extra innings.
However, Byrne wasn’t the only UF pitcher that struggled.
With just 0.2 innings of work, freshman relief pitcher Jordan Butler gave up two runs. MSU’s Elijah MacNamee smacked a two-RBI homerun to center field off the left hander in the bottom of the seventh to give his team its first runs of the game.
Freshman Tommy Mace got the surprise start for UF as normal Game 1 pitcher Brady Singer was a late scratch. In his first SEC start, the Tampa, Florida, native tossed 6.1 innings en route to what was his third and finest start of 2018.
“He threw outstanding, even more than I thought.” O’Sullivan said of Mace in a release. “I thought he was outstanding and that's exactly what we needed. That's kind of what we got last year from Tyler Dyson, it was a shot in the arm down the stretch.”
The Gators (41-13, 20-8 SEC) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third after shortstop Deacon Liput singled to score second baseman Blake Reese. That lead doubled later in the inning when Schwarz scored Liput on a sacrifice fly to center field.
In the sixth inning, left fielder Austin Langworthy would tack on one more run after he crushed an 0-1 pitch to deep right field and over the fence. Langworthy had the best day for Florida, going 2-3 with a single in addition to the bomb.
From that point on it would be all Bulldogs.
After MacNamee’s homer cut the lead to 3-2, Mangum’s triple in the eighth put MSU up 4-3.
Two batters later, first baseman Tanner Allen would ice the game with a two-run homer to right field off Byrne.
In the grand scheme of things, this loss won’t hurt the Gatos as they already locked down the regular-season SEC title.
However, UF is currently riding 19-straight regular season series victories and will need to win out to preserve the streak.
Game 2 at Dudy Noble Field will be played Friday night, beginning at 7 p.m.
You can follow Chris O’Brien on Twitter @THEChrisOB and contact him at [email protected]org.