Kyle Ball slumped his shoulders in frustration as the ball flew up into the sky, traveling farther vertically than horizontally as it disappeared up into the night sky.
The Stetson shortstop never left the batter’s box as the ball landed in Florida first baseman Jordan Butler’s glove. The Gators’ dugout flooded the field to celebrate their second win over Stetson in 2021.
Florida moved to 19-9 on the year as it ended on the victorious side of a 7-6 offensive fireworks show with the Hatters.
Jacob Young and Nathan Hickey, who combined for seven hits the last time Florida played Stetson, picked up where they left off. Young and Hickey both singled to lead off Florida’s bats before third baseman Kirby McMullen reeled in Young with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Stetson first baseman Brandon Hylton erased the lead immediately. Listed at 6 feet, 7 inches, the big man sent a big shot into right field in the top of the second. Florida right fielder Sterlin Thompson could only watch the ball fly as the score locked at 1-1.
In the top of the fourth, Stetson went deep again. This time, right fielder Hernen Sardinas rocketed a ball over Dizney Grove behind right field.
The Hatters leader in batting average and slugging percentage smashed the ball an estimated 422 feet with an exit velocity above 103 miles per hour.
Stetson couldn’t keep Florida quiet at the plate. The Gators plated a trio of runs in the fourth as Jordan Butler, Kris Armstrong and Josh Rivera all delivered hits. Florida recorded 10 hits before the fourth inning ended.
Sterlin Thompson doubled a run home before a Jud Fabian sacrifice fly to right field opened up a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Between the third inning of the previous game and the fifth inning Wednesday, the Gators tallied 24 hits and 16 runs in 11 innings at the plate against the Hatters.
Florida’s offense cooled after the fifth, but the pitchers preserved the 6-2 advantage for two innings. Starter Garrett Milchin allowed no hits in five innings outside of the two long balls, and Ryan Cabarces tossed a pair of scoreless innings in relief of him.
“I thought (Garrett) was really efficient on the mound,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “(He) gave us exactly what we needed in a mid-week start”
Then, with men on first and second in the top of the eighth, an errant Rivera throw to first led to both Stetson runners reaching home. After a fairly dominant game, Florida led 6-4 with an inning and a half to play.
Rivera made up for the blunder quickly in the bottom of the inning. He launched a ball deep into the night sky and over the visiting bullpen to give Florida a third insurance run entering the final inning.
“The thought process is really just not trying to do too much,” Rivera said after the game. “That play is already over so it’s on to the next one. So I’ve just got to step in the box and take every pitch one pitch at a time and try to do some damage.”
Rivera ended the night with three hits, including the solo shot, a pair of doubles and two RBIs.
The home run turned out to be the difference, as Stetson’s Christian Pregent cracked a two-run homer of his own in the ninth inning to make it a 7-6 game.
Despite another hit, Stetson never pulled any closer. When Ball’s pop-up landed in Butler’s glove, Florida could safely celebrate its 19th win of the season.
The Gators return to Florida Ballpark Wednesday night at 6 p.m. to face Florida A&M.
Contact Ryan Haley at email@example.com and 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.