When Michael Byrne trots out of Florida’s bullpen and makes his way towards the pitcher’s mound, his teammates automatically feel an added sense of confidence and relief.
It’s hard to blame them.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander from Orlando has been lights out for the Gators all season.
After beginning the year as a midweek starter, coach Kevin O’Sullivan moved Byrne to the back end of the bullpen in mid-March, where he has since taken over as one of the best closers in the country.
In 29 relief appearances this year, Byrne has registered a 1.29 ERA as well as a program-record 16 saves.
And the sophomore has only gotten better as time has passed on. Over his last 27.2 innings pitched, Byrne has allowed one run to cross home plate, good for a stellar 0.33 ERA.
“We feel so comfortable out there when he’s on the mound,” third baseman Jonathan India said. “He’s done it all year. It’s awesome.”
Byrne’s torrid stretch of play couldn’t have come at a better time for UF, with NCAA Tournament action kicking off last week in Gainesville.
Florida (45-17) needed wins against all three teams in its regional – South Florida, Bethune-Cookman and Marist – to survive the round.
The Gators relied heavily on Byrne’s arm, sending him to mound in all three victories for a combined 10 scoreless innings, two saves and a win.
Now, after a hard-fought opening set of games, UF returns to action this weekend in the Super Regional of the NCAA Tournament against Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons opened up their national postseason run with three straight wins to sweep their regional against West Virginia, Maryland and UMBC.
Wake Forest (42-18) finished the regular season in third place in the ACC standings behind Louisville and North Carolina with a 19-11 conference record, and the team also led the NCAA in home runs this year with 100.
The trio of junior center fielder Stuart Fairchild, junior first baseman Gavin Sheets and sophomore third baseman Johnny Aiello lead the way for the Demon Deacons offensively, with each player batting .320 or better and hitting at least 17 homers on the season.
Byrne figures to play a big role in stopping Wake Forest’s potent lineup along with starters Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar.
Faedo will start game one of the three-game series on Saturday, Singer will start game two on Sunday and Kowar will start game three on Monday if necessary.
“They’ll be ready to go,” O’Sullivan said. “Their pitching has been the key to our success all season.”
A video posted to Floridagators.com contributed to this report.
Contact Dylan Dixon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
Michael Byrne pitches during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.