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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Florida clinches fifth-straight conference series with dominant Georgia win

Four home runs and another strong Hunter Barco outing lifted Florida to its 12th conference win in 15 games

Hunter Barco on the mound against Jacksonville University on March 14. Barco allowed six hits on 98 pitches in Saturday's win over Georgia.
Hunter Barco on the mound against Jacksonville University on March 14. Barco allowed six hits on 98 pitches in Saturday's win over Georgia.

Jud Fabain and the entirety of Florida Ballpark watched the baseball disappear into the orange evening sky, the crack of his bat still reverberating around the property.

Fabian dropped his bat halfway down the first base line and pointed towards his teammates in the dugout as the ball disappeared over the left-field berm.

Fabian’s first home run of the night foreshadowed the turn from game to blowout as the Florida bats turned three more balls into souvenirs in a 9-2 landslide over the Georgia Bulldogs to clinch the series Saturday.

The Bulldogs set out with hopes of squaring the series and landed the first blow. A walk followed by a double from designated hitter Fernando Gonzalez down the left field line put two Bulldogs in scoring position without a single out in the second inning.

Florida southpaw Hunter Barco couldn’t wiggle his way free without picking up a few battle scars. He threw a wild ball against the next batter to surrender the first run of the game before Georgia left fielder Randon Jernigan dribbled one to third base and beat Kirby McMullen’s throw, which allowed Gonzalez to score and make it a 2-0 game.

Barco settled down from there on out. The second-year hurler roared back with a three up, three down third inning with a pair of strikeouts, and he surrendered just two singles the rest of his time on the mound. 

“After the second inning, he was really sharp,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He fought through a difficult night and gave us a tremendous effort.”

The lefty, who revealed after the game he’d fought strep throat Tuesday, ended his night after 6.1 innings with 98 pitches and six allowed hits. He stranded six Georgia runners on base, didn’t allow a run after the second and struck out eight batters.

While Barco put the Bulldog bats on ice, Florida’s caught fire. Kendrick Calilao, who worked his way into the starting lineup with a three-run home run to beat Kentucky May 7, continued his excellent play with a leadoff single. He later homered in the third, a solo shot to left-center field for his eighth hit and third home run in his previous 15 at-bats.

Georgia starter Jaden Woods walked two batters after Calilao before left fielder Jacob Young striped a low line drive to center field, a two-RBI single which tied the game and lifted Young to 35 RBIs for the season, the fourth-highest mark on the team.

Fabian’s monster fly ball an inning later made it a 3-2 game, and Calilao increased the lead to again two batters later. 

The home run party didn’t end there for the Gators. Fabian crushed another ball to left field in the fifth inning, this time barely escaping the glove of Jernigan. The evening marked Fabian’s fourth multi-home run game of the season and the third straight Saturday he hit two home runs.

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“Somebody told me that’s the last three Saturdays I’ve hit two homers, so I said let’s just wear blue every day,” Fabian said in reference to Florida’s Saturday uniforms.

Later that inning, shortstop Josh Rivera teed off on Georgia’s Darryn Pasqua and flew a ball into Dizney Grove for a two-run homer, Florida’s fourth of the night.

Rivera kept his momentum alive his next at-bat. Bulldog arm Nolan Crisp, a former Florida Gator, surrendered a single and back-to-back walks to load the bases. Rivera poked a ground ball past Georgia shortstop Cole Tate and into left field, a single which reeled in two more runs and cemented Florida’s final 9-2 margin.

The Gators moved to 35-15 for the year and 17-9 in the SEC, now fourth in the conference and a half-game behind Vanderbilt. With the series clinched, Florida has now won its previous five conference series and 15 of its past 19 games. 

The series finale, and the final regular season home game of 2021, begins at noon Sunday and will broadcast on SEC Network. Sunday will also be the team’s senior day.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley

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Ryan Haley

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.


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