Empty seats, wet bleachers and dampened ponchos of anxious Gators fans surrounded the tarp-covered infield at McKethan Stadium. At 6:30, when second-ranked Florida was supposed to begin its first contest of a three-game set against the No. 8 Vanderbilt Commodores, not one player for either team could be seen on the field.
It took nearly an hour for the grounds crew to lift the tarp and prepare the field for Friday night’s game. But Florida’s players found a way to stay loose.
“We were just hanging out in the cages, the clubhouse playing games, cards,” third baseman Jonathan India said. “That’s basically all we did.”
When first pitch finally came at 8:15, the Gators didn’t lose a step.
Florida (23-5, 5-2 SEC) leaned on its pitching to guide UF to an 8-4 victory over the Commodores on Friday night.
Brady Singer was dominant against Vanderbilt. The junior right-hander avoided the rain prior to the game and set Vanderbilt’s lineup aflame.
“I just worked hard this week and focused on some different things coming off my last outing,” he said. “I was kinda throwing (the fastball) wherever I wanted. Going up in the zone a lot too. I felt that really helped me tonight.”
Singer was rock solid for seven innings, giving up only two hits and one run and striking out 11 Commodores, just one punch out shy of his career-high. Singer’s lone mistake came on a hanging breaking ball that Vanderbilt designated hitter Philip Clarke took deep to right field.
Aside from that, Singer was lights-out and regained his intensity after a tough outing against the Razorbacks last week.
After a five-run seventh inning from the Gators offense, Tommy Mace took over for Singer. Mace had entered with a six-run lead and the game seemingly out of reach.
But Vanderbilt (17-9, 5-2 SEC) wouldn’t go down easy.
One swing of the bat drove in three runs for the Commodores after Stephen Scott sent a shot onto the pavement of Stadium Road. His rocket to right-center field cut the Gators lead to 7-4 midway through the eighth inning.
After that, the curtain fell on Mace, sending the game to a quick intermission. Florida closer Michael Byrne then attempted to corral the game for the Gators.
He did just that, and more.
Byrne captured his 26th career save, breaking the all-time school record and passing former closer John Pricher (1988-92) on the list.
“I didn’t expect to be doing this a year ago,” Byrne said. “It’s definitely pretty cool. I like doing it, it’s helping the team and that’s all I can ask for.”
In addition to the pitching on display Friday night, a particular batter in Florida’s lineup continued his steady rhythm.
Huddled under the shelter with Singer’s arm was India’s bat, as it was able to avoid the rain before Friday night’s game as well.
The Gators third baseman went 3-for-5, including a towering home run that found a seat in the student section out toward left field. India is now hitting .440 this season, .134 more than the second closest hitter in Florida’s starting lineup (Wil Dalton, .306).
“I’m not trying to hit homers out like that by any means,” he said. “But I just put a good swing on the ball. It carried.”
With the win, Florida moved into a tie for second place in the SEC standings with the Commodores. The Gators will be back on the diamond bright and early Saturday morning as they prepare for a noon first pitch against Vanderbilt in the second game of the series.
Follow Justin Ahlum on Twitter @justinn_case1 and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pitcher Brady Singer allowed one run on two hits through seven innings Friday night against No. 8 Vanderbilt.