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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Gators’ pitching leads charge to take series against Vanderbilt Sunday

Hunter Barco and Jack Leftwich silenced Vanderbilt’s bats to earn the 5-3 win in the series finale

Freshman Hunter Barco throws a pitch against Jacksonville on March 14. The southpaw struck out seven batters in 5.1 innings against Vanderbilt Sunday.
Freshman Hunter Barco throws a pitch against Jacksonville on March 14. The southpaw struck out seven batters in 5.1 innings against Vanderbilt Sunday.

Jack Leftwich began his windup among a vibrating chorus of claps, shouts and whistles from the Florida Ballpark crowd. The ball flew out of his hand with vigor and barreled straight toward home plate. 

Carter Young swung, but the ball already sat in the palm of Nathan Hickey’s glove.

Florida baseball’s Sunday series finale against No. 2 Vanderbilt followed a different pattern than its predecessors. Hunter Barco and Leftwich silenced the Commodores’ bats to earn a 5-3 victory Sunday and a series win. 

Starting pitcher Hunter Barco stunned the usually active Vanderbilt bats. Through 5.1 innings of work, Barco held the Commodores to just five hits and three runs. The southpaw also struck out seven batters. 

“I think that was the best start I’ve ever seen from Barco,” Leftwich said. “That’s probably the biggest game he’s pitched in his life.” 

“I think that was the best start I’ve ever seen from Barco,” Leftwich said. “That’s probably the biggest game he’s pitched in his life.” 

The first mark against Barco came in the second inning. Vanderbilt right fielder Isaiah Thomas sent a no-doubt solo blast into the left-field berm to record the first run for Vandy. Barco promptly responded with three consecutive outs, including a pair of strikeouts, to end the frame.

Through the first four innings, Thomas’s solo shot was one of just three Vanderbilt hits.

The Commodores waited until the fifth inning for their next run. Barco gave up two singles and a fielder’s choice, the last of which granted Vandy its second run of the game. 

Despite Barco’s stellar start, the Gators’ relief staff ran into some trouble as the game persisted. 

Right-hander Christian Scott only lasted two-thirds of an inning before he left the mound. The sophomore gave up three hits and failed to record a strikeout in his outing. 

Left-hander Trey Van Der Weide entered the game to face just two batters. The southpaw gave up a hit but recorded a crucial out to end the inning. 

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Jack Leftwich took control from there. Leftwich closed out the final three innings in total command. 

The right-handed veteran escaped a seventh inning jam with quick back-to-back outs before he completely stifled the Commodores in the final two innings to close out the series. Leftwich finished the game with three strikeouts and allowed just one hit. 

The Gators held relatively steady throughout the game at the plate. 

UF established momentum in its first appearance of the opening frame. Left fielder Jacob Young kicked off the home team with an infield single. Designated hitter Kris Armstrong slammed a double over Thomas’s head in right-field and drove home Young. 

Third baseman Kirby McMullen capped off the inning with an RBI single to left-center. 

Armstrong showcased his power at the plate all game. He went 2-3 with an RBI, including his first-inning double. The DH also launched a 114 mph rocket off of the right-field wall in the fifth.

“I think I have really good confidence right now because we’re playing really well as a team,” Armstrong said. “There’s no reason for me not to have any confidence at this point.” 

Florida recorded its final run in the fourth inning. A Jordan Butler walk and a double to left-center from Josh Rivera set the Gators up for a fielder’s choice to bring the final run home. 

Though the Gators couldn’t put any more ticks on the scoreboard, their five-run jump in the first four innings proved lethal enough to take the win and the series. 

Contact Sara Kate Dyson at skatedyson@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter at @sarakatedyson

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