The crack of the bat brought the ballpark to its feet, but the ball never rose high enough.
Kendrick Calilao watched helplessly as his line drive flew straight into the glove of Jacksonville left fielder Tommy Joseph for one final Friday out. Despite a pair of ninth-inning home runs, the Gators failed to overcome a five-run deficit and lost the series opener to Jacksonville 10-9.
Tommy Mace took the mound for the fourth consecutive Friday. The Florida ace, who boasted a 3-0 record and a 1.50 ERA after his first three starts, didn’t allow a hit in the first four innings and struck out six of the first 13 batters.
Florida’s offense leaned on his arm early as the Gators didn’t record a hit until the bottom of the fourth. Once the dam broke that inning, they capitalized. A Sterlin Thompson triple and Kris Armstrong sacrifice fly gave Florida a 2-0 lead.
Jacksonville responded the immediate inning afterwards as Mace surrendered his first hit of the night to the first batter. The next four batters reeled in two runs to deadlock the game again. Mace closed out of the inning, but after 98 pitches, his night ended there with seven strikeouts, three hits and two earned runs.
Armstrong broke the tie in the 6th inning when a rocket of a fly ball bounced off Joseph’s glove and into the visiting bullpen for a two-run home run. But Jacksonville answered as both Florida’s bullpen and defense wilted under the weekend lights.
The Dolphins scored seven runs across the final three innings, including four in the ninth, in a stretch containing nine hits, four sacrifice flies, a walk and three fielding errors. The calamity of miscues birthed a seemingly insurmountable 10-5 lead with just three outs left.
Josh Rivera then hammered a deep fly ball to right field, his first extra-base hit since Feb. 28. The ball landed somewhere beyond the outfield wall and made the game 10-7. Rivera savored the overdue smack with an exaggerated bat flip and a slow jog to first.
Jud Fabian did the exact same thing two at-bats later. The slugger’s sixth home run of the season brought the entire crowd to its first standing ovation of the night and left the Gators one run shy with Jacksonville still yet to record an out.
“You always take pride when you score four runs in an inning and doing it with two homers,” Fabian said. “But it’s all blurred out by a loss.”
Only one more Florida player reached base the rest of the inning. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the team were forced to watch a smaller in-state school celebrate on their home field for the second time in nine days.
“When you make that many mistakes, when you mess up some bunt plays and you make four errors defensively, you usually lose one-run games,” O’Sullivan said.
Saturday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. as the Gators look to even the series.
Contact Ryan Haley at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley
Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.