It looked like the Gators were about to by completely stymied by the Auburn pitching staff for the second straight night.
The Tigers’ led 4-1 in the ninth and junior left-hander Michael O’Neal was one out away from finishing off a complete game.
Then, Vickash Ramjit singled to right for his first hit of the series and advanced catcher Taylor Gushue to second. Third baseman Josh Tobias followed and took the first pitch he saw from O’Neal over the left-field fence to tie the game at 4 on his first home run since March 16 — and the first one O’Neal had allowed in 82 innings.
“I knew he was going to try and get ahead,” Tobias said. “He’d just got two guys on and he was going to try and throw a fastball, so I was looking for a pitch to drive; he gave me one-middle-in and I just put a good swing on it.”
Florida (28-24, 13-13 Southeastern Conference) used a four-run ninth inning to come from behind and defeat Auburn (30-20, 10-16 SEC) in walk-off fashion, 5-4, to even its final home series of the season at a game apiece following an hour and 42 minute rain delay to begin the evening.
“We’ve been waiting for a win like this all year long,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Reid Carter replaced O’Neal after the home run and walked freshman Harrison Bader. Pinch hitter Zack Powers hit a fly ball to right field that fell between second baseman Jordan Ebert and right fielder Hunter Kelley. Bader made it from first to home and narrowly beat the throw to the plate.
“They were playing back,” Powers said of the soft double. “I thought the ball had a chance to drop and it did, fortunately.”
Through 4.2 innings, Florida had just two base runners— one on an infield single and the other on a hit batter to lead off the game. O’Neal needed just 39 pitches to get through the first four innings. He hit Martin to open the game and then retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced.
The Gators only forced three three-ball counts through the first eight innings, and O’Sullivan said their aggressiveness at the plate backfired until the final inning.
“He wasn’t walking anybody,” O’Sullivan said. “… Their pitcher did a great job. Kept the ball down. His numbers are great.”
Sophomore right-hander Johnny Magliozzi, who with 11 saves, has functioned primarily as the Gators’ closer this year, made just his second start of the season. However, he had little trouble adjusting to moving out of the bullpen.
He gave the Gators their third quality start of the season from a pitcher other than Jonathon Crawford as he went seven innings and allowed just three runs on seven hits and struck out five.
After he gave up an RBI single to designated hitter Patrick Savage in the third inning that put Auburn up 2-0, Magliozzi retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced.
“I just started throwing all three pitches for strikes and throwing the ball in,” Magliozzi said. “A lot of their righties were on top of the plate so was just trying to get in on them.”
Magliozzi was replaced after giving up a home run to begin the eighth to make it 3-1. Later in the inning with runners on first and second with two outs, Ebert singled up the middle and center fielder Richie Martin threw Kelley out at home.
“At the time, you don’t realize how big of a play that is,” O’Sullivan said. “But then at the end of the ball game, you win by a run, obviously it was huge.”
Magliozzi’s outing was the second-longest start by a UF pitcher after Crawford’s complete-game shutout against Ole Miss on March 30. O’Sullivan couldn’t name his starter for Sunday and said not to expect such an outing as Florida goes for the series win at 1 p.m.
“It’s not going to be a one-man show,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re gonna need four, five or six pitchers to step up, and everybody’s going to have to do their role. It’s as simple as that.”
GatContact Josh Jurnovoy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sophomore Zack Powers is congratulated by teammates at home plate after hitting his second grand slam during Florida’s 16-5 win against Duke on Feb. 17 at McKethan Stadium.