Sunday’s switch to daylight savings time left the Gators, Bulls and audience in a stupor – until Nathan Hickey woke everyone up.
With two outs in the eighth and the game knotted at 1, UF’s freshman catcher cracked a go-ahead homer off the scoreboard in right field to hand the No. 1 Gators a 2-1 win and a sweep over the Bulls at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium.
“Honestly, I was just looking for something over the plate,” Hickey said. “(I) just tried to get the barrel on it…I got chills running around the bases.”
The blast marked Hickey’s fourth-straight game with a homer, keeping Florida perfect and advancing the team to a 16-0 record.
The lost hour of sleep created a lazy Sunday on the diamond for the in-state rivals, and both starting pitchers took advantage. UF notched four hits on the afternoon, while USF recorded just three.
Florida sent out freshman Hunter Barco (2-0) to toe the rubber for the third and final game of the series. He didn’t disappoint.
Barco surrendered just one run through six innings, giving up two hits, walking two and striking out seven in the process.
USF pitcher Carson Ragsdale (1-0) was on a pitch count and went just four innings.
Outside of a shaky fourth inning, Ragsdale looked like the best pitcher on the field all afternoon.
The junior right-hander gave up just two hits, walked a batter and struck out 10 Gators. To put his glut of K’s into perspective, he rang up nearly 60 percent of the hitters he faced.
UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Ragsdale made it difficult for the team to get anything going offensively.
“Ragsdale had the best breaking ball we’ve seen all year long,” he said. “He had us handcuffed.”
After three innings of hitless ball for both sides, Florida finally broke the gridlock in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Gators right fielder Jacob Young extended his hitting streak to 17 games by grounding a single up the middle for the game’s first hit.
Hickey matched Young by lacing a liner to left to put runners on the corners for first baseman Kendrick Calilao.
Calilao followed Florida’s offensive awakening with a strikeout – on a wild pitch.
The errant throw from Ragsdale skipped to the backstop and allowed Young to streak home and score, making it 1-0 Gators in the bottom of the fourth.
But UF’s lead was short-lived, only making it as far as the top of the sixth.
Bulls shortstop Nick Gonzalez led off the frame with a single to left, USF’s first hit of the game.
After a sacrifice bunt by left fielder Carmine Lane, Gonzalez stood at second base as the tying runner with No. 3 hitter JD Dutka up to bat.
Barco fired a 2-0 pitch to the second baseman, who smoked a double down the left field line to send Gonzalez home and tie it up at one.
The standstill lasted until Hickey’s two-out, go-ahead home run in the eighth.
Closer Ben Specht came in to finish off USF in the top of the ninth. He allowed a two-out base hit to Bulls catcher Jake Sullivan, but that was the only traffic he allowed on the bases.
Specht struck out designated hitter Jordan Santos and ended the threat for good, earning his third save of the season.
Florida will go head-to-head against another in-state rival in Florida State (10-5) on Tuesday.
Sophomore Nick Pogue (1-0) will get the weekday start for the Gators in the annual Sunshine Showdown.
First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium.
You can contact Dylan O'Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanoshea24.