JACKSONVILLE — Jeremy Vasquez ran to the right-field corner with Florida leading 3-1 in the fourth inning.
Florida State’s Darren Miller had just hit a ball to the corner with Jackson Lueck on first base, and the Seminoles seemed to be on the cusp of closing the gap.
Lueck sprinted around the bases as Vasquez picked up the ball. The sophomore right fielder fired the ball to the cutoff man, Dalton Guthrie, who then threw Lueck out at home, preserving the Gators’ two-run lead.
It was a lead No. 2 Florida wouldn’t surrender, winning 3-2 over the No. 12 Seminoles at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in front of an announced crowd of 9,035, with Vasquez’s throw and the relay being the difference.
"At the moment, I just thought it was a momentum shifter, but now I see that it came down to a one-run ballgame. That was a huge play," Vasquez said. "I was sprinting. I picked it up, and I threw it as fast as I could."
Tuesday night’s game was one the Gators (24-3) needed to regain their focus. After losing a series for the first time this season against Kentucky over the weekend, coach Kevin O’Sullivan wanted to see how his team would respond.
Florida was focused and ready to answer O’Sullivan’s challenge.
"There’s so many things that we did well tonight," O’Sullivan said. "I think we were on our game tonight as far as being focused and being ready to play."
FSU tested UF’s resiliency early. The Seminoles (18-6) opened the scoring in the top of the first when Cal Raleigh cranked a solo home run to right field off of UF starting pitcher Jackson Kowar.
But Florida answered quickly. Facing an 0-1 count in the bottom of the second, sophomore designated hitter Mike Rivera hit a two-run home run to give the Gators the lead. It was his team-leading sixth home run of the season.
"Like I said before, I don’t try to hit home runs. That’s not a part of my game," Rivera said. "He threw me a changeup up, and I hit it, and it went over the fence."
After Rivera’s home run, Kowar (3-0) got stronger with only one hiccup. The Seminoles put runners on the corners with two outs in the third inning trying to cut into the Gators’ 3-1 lead. The freshman got out of the jam by striking out Dylan Busby, setting up Vasquez’s heroics the next inning.
"That is something we work on a lot and obviously executed well," Rivera said. "Jeremy (Vasquez) got it in quick … and JJ (Schwarz) stayed back and made a bad-ass tag."
O’Sullivan replaced Kowar with another freshman pitcher, Brady Singer. Singer was just as effective, tossing three innings, allowing two hits and striking out three batters.
FSU cut Florida’s lead to one when Quincy Nieporte’s bloop single to shallow right field made it 3-2 in the eighth. But Singer was able to get out of the inning without allowing any more damage.
"Those two freshmen were outstanding," O’Sullivan said. "To pitch in an environment like this and go eight innings against a top-10 team, a rival, and to pitch as well as they did. I think they grew up a lot."
Shaun Anderson shut the door on the game, pitching a perfect ninth inning and earning his fourth save of the season.
Florida will next host No. 1 Texas A&M for a three-game series this weekend.
Florida catcher JJ Schwarz (22) tags out Florida State's Jackson Lueck (2) at home to end the fourth inning of an NCAA college baseball game in Jacksonville, Fla., Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Florida won 3-2. (Gary Lloyd McCullough/The Florida Times-Union via AP)