Blake Reese took his lead on first base after coming in to pinch run for Christian Hicks in the top of the 12th inning. Hicks had reached first after narrowly beating out the throw on a weak grounder to the third base side.
USF pitcher Andrew Perez tried to pick-off Reese from first, but the ball sailed over first baseman Joe Genord’s head, allowing the Tallahassee, native to reach third base.
The throw from foul territory on the right side of the field went over the head of USF third baseman David Villar as well. As the crowd erupted into a frenzy, Reese sprinted home, yelling in excitement as he touched the plate and greeted his teammates by the dugout.
“I was out of gas,” Reese said. “I was seeing stars by the time I got home. I felt like I was moving in slow motion.”
That run kick-started an inning where the Gators (44-16) scored four runs to beat the Bulls (42-18) 5-1 Saturday night at McKethan Stadium.
Before that inning, the Gators and the Bulls were neck-and-neck, with neither team able to gain an advantage. There were no runs scored on either side from the fifth inning until the 12th.
Starting pitcher Alex Faedo provided seven solid innings for the Gators. Despite a slip-up in the fifth inning where the Bulls tied the game at one, the Tampa, native struck out ten batters, walked two and allowed just four hits and one run.
“This is one of those games that your season is kind of on the line,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “(Michael Byrne) was outstanding. Alex (Faedo) was outstanding. You've got to credit South Florida's pitchers, they were really good as well. They used all their best arms today out of the pen. It was a heck of a ballgame."
The Gators offense didn’t do a lot early on to help their pitcher out, either. In the first three innings, Florida went without a hit, and it's only baserunner was Mark Kolozsvary on a walk.
That changed in the fourth after UF first baseman JJ Schwarz walked and took second on a Nelson Maldonado groundout. Catcher Mike Rivera brought Schwarz home with an RBI single, giving Florida an early lead.
USF bounced back in the next inning, putting one on the board after a hit-by-pitch and back-to-back singles. Neither team was able to score, however, until the 12th inning.
Florida’s offense came alive that inning, starting with Reese’s game-clinching score. Nick Horvath followed up with a single to center field, and Jonathan India walked to give the Gators runners on first and second.
Horvath and India came around to score alongside Dalton Guthrie, who walked to load the bases, on a Schwarz groundout to first and Maldonado single to center field.
Byrne was brought in to relieve Faedo in the eighth inning and pitched the remainder of the game. He struck out eight in five innings and allowed three hits and no runs.
“If you were to look back at the end of the game and all you heard was Alex Faedo and Michael Byrne pitched, I like our chances,” Reese said.
With the win, the Gators are one victory away from advancing to the Super Regionals. They will face the winner of USF and Bethune-Cookman.
Contact Jake Dreilinger at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake.
UF's Michael Byrne pitches during Florida's 5-4 win against William & Mary on Feb. 17, 2017, at McKethan Stadium