Jud Fabian stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat, ready to face one of the top pitchers in the SEC.
With two men on, no outs and down in the count 1-2, the center fielder eyed the pitch, and the crack of his bat rang out.
The Florida Ballpark crowd, hungry for redemption after Friday’s loss, erupted in a thunderous roar as the ball sailed easily over the left-field wall and into the visiting bullpen.
Fabian’s first home run set the tone for a long-winded back-and-forth battle at the plate as theGators evened the series Saturday with an 11-8 victory over the Commodores.
Through the first four innings, both team’s bats sprang to life, but neither team maintained a lead.
Vandy took an early lead in the top of the first with a single followed by a fielder’s choice put one run on the board.
The Gators responded with back-to-back walks before Fabian’s home run gave Florida a 3-1 lead. The sophomore’s three-run shot triggered a home run derby at Florida Ballpark as the teams combined for six home runs.
The Gators knocked four out of the park, while the Commodores connected for two of their own.Fabian went deep twice, Kirby McMullen crushed one and Kris Armstrong added the fourth and final homer for the Gators.
Vandy drove home two runs in the second to tie things up at three. That inning marked the only scoreless frame for the Gators’ bats until the seventh.
The third inning saw three balls become souvenirs. Vandy reclaimed the lead in the top half, when third baseman Parker Noland sent one into his team’s bullpen.
However, the Gators responded with a solo shot from Fabian into the left-field berm and McMullen’s own deep fly into the Vandy bullpen.
Vanderbilt catcher Maxwell Romero Jr. sailed a two-run home run into right in the fourth inning. It proved to be the final bout for the Vanderbilt bats, though. The Gators pitching staff managed to hold the Commodores scoreless through seven.
The Gators tacked on six more runs through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Armstrong elevated one final ball over the left-field fence for a two-run bomb in the sixth and put the Gators up 11-6.
“We just needed this to show that we can compete with any team in the country,” Fabian said.
Fabian and shortstop Josh Rivera led the charge on the offensive front. Fabian only tagged the two home runs, but still generated four RBIs. Rivera went 3-4 with a RBI and two runs scored.
Both starting pitchers, Tommy Mace and Jack Leiter, struggled early on. Leiter, one of Vanderbilt’s brightest stars, surrendered five earned runs over five hits and dealt only four strikeouts. The right-hander left the game after just four innings of work.
Mace recovered after he gave up five earned runs through the first four innings. The Gators’ starter threw eight complete innings. By the time he left the mound, he allowed 10 hits and six earned runs over 118 pitches.
“I think that’s one of the most competitive outings that I can remember,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The way he settled in after the fourth inning was nothing short of remarkable.”
The Gators face off against the Commodores one more time to decide the series on Sunday. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.
Contact Sara Kate Dyson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @sarakatedyson