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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

JJ Schwarz, Nelson Maldonado guide Gators past Bethune-Cookman

<p>JJ Schwarz hit a home run off the scoreboard in right field Wednesday night. He finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. </p>

JJ Schwarz hit a home run off the scoreboard in right field Wednesday night. He finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Gators fans started to get restless with Bethune-Cookman pitcher Branden Frank.

“Throw the ball,” one yelled.

“Hurry up,” another screeched.

With the bases loaded and only one out on the board, it appeared the pressure, and Florida’s home crowd, had gotten to Frank. The Wildcats reliever threw three straight balls to Gators center fielder Wil Dalton, walking him and allowing UF to increase its lead.

The walk was the end for Frank and one of the two runs Florida scored in the seventh inning. The two tallies gave Florida the insurance it needed as the Gators (5-0) remained undefeated on Wednesday night, defeating Bethune-Cookman 7-4 at McKethan Stadium.

Freshman Jordan Butler got the starting nod from Gators manager Kevin O’Sullivan and threw three scoreless innings before the Wildcats (1-4) tagged him for three runs in the fourth.

However, the southpaw had his struggles throughout his first career start. Despite tossing a shutout through the first third of the game, Butler allowed nine runners to get on base, including a third inning in which the Wildcats left the bases loaded after two hard-hit singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk.

“Obviously, I think he would like to have back a couple 0-2 pitches,” O’Sullivan said. “But all-in-all it’s his first start. I think he did well.”

With Butler running into some issues on the mound, the Gators offense had their young pitcher’s back.

Following a stand-up double from right fielder Nelson Maldonado, Dalton mashed an opposite-field RBI single to help the Gators jump out to an early 1-0 lead in the first.

Two innings later, first baseman JJ Schwarz smacked a pitch from Tyler Krull off the scoreboard to give the Gators a 3-0 advantage.

Last season, it took Schwarz 15 games to tally two home runs. In 2018, it has taken him five. He finished the night 3-of-4 from the plate with two RBIs.

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“I’m definitely off to a good start,” Schwarz said. “Hopefully I can keep that going for the rest of the season.”

Maldonado, who was on the base path when Schwarz hit the two-run dinger, was in the middle of attempting to steal and couldn’t see the hit.

“I was supposed to roll my head, but I didn’t,” Maldonado said. “But it sounded good off the bat, I’ll tell you that.”

After a balk by Bethune-Cookman reliever Joseph Calamita later in the inning allowed Dalton to score from third and increase UF’s lead to four, the Wildcats came back to post three runs in the fourth. A bases loaded single from center fielder Zach Spivey drove in the Wildcats first two runs of the game.

The Gators proceeded to pull the plug on Butler after the base knock, as sophomore Nick Long came in to relieve the freshman. Bethune-Cookman went on to score one more run in the inning after a series of fielder’s choices.

A run off an error in the fifth and the Gators final two scores in the seventh was all they needed to seal the deal as the Wildcats only came up with one more run in the ninth inning.

The Gators have a day off before traveling to Coral Gables to take on the Miami Hurricanes in a three-game series beginning Friday.

“We’ve got a long bus ride tomorrow,” O’Sullivan said. “So it’ll be a good challenge for us. Going on the road for the first time, and it’ll be a lot of firsts for a lot of guys being on the road in a different environment against a very good team.”

Follow Justin Ahlum on Twitter @justinn_case1 and contact him at

JJ Schwarz hit a home run off the scoreboard in right field Wednesday night. He finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. 

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