Florida baseball head coach Kevin O’Sullivan screamed, his nose inches from third base umpire’s as he gestured wildly towards the majority of central Florida. A waved pitch cost his Gators an out, and O’Sullivan knew how important outs were in the postseason.
He had no idea how right he was.
The sixth inning, which began with the faux ground ball, ended with a 13-run lead as South Alabama dismantled and devastated Florida en route to a 19-1 victory, UF's second consecutive upset loss and the end of the Gators’ 2021 season.
Southpaw Hunter Barco began the day on the mound for the Gators. The lanky lefty tossed at least six innings each of his previous four outings. He’d surrendered 16 hits and five earned runs against 28 strikeouts in his last 26 innings on the mound before Saturday afternoon.
His luck ran out quickly against the Jaguars. The freshman walked the first batter he faced and struck the third with a pitch. South Alabama second baseman Hunter Stokes and first baseman Kaleb DeLaTorre followed with back-to-back singles which brought in one run apiece. Before Barco tallied his second out, the Gators trailed 2-0, and the Jacksonville native was forced to give up the game ball.
“It was just one of those days,” O’Sullivan. “He’s been pitching really good for us, he’s had a really good year for us and I hate it for him to end it like it did today.”
Junior reliever Jack Leftwich took over for Barco and escaped the opening frame without allowing further damage. He blanked the Jaguars in his 2.2 innings of work with four strikeouts.
The dormant Florida bats seemed to stir in the top of the third inning. Back-to-back singles and a sacrifice fly from catcher Mac Guscette cut the lead to a single run entering the fourth inning.
UF’s Franco Aleman relieved Leftwich to start the fourth and retired the side, but Jud Fabian couldn’t reach a fly ball from Cameron Tissue in the fifth and two more runs crossed to make it 4-1.
The lead seemed manageable until the sixth inning, when a blown call led to a blown-open game.
South Alabama’s Hunter Donaldson led off the inning with an infield ground ball, but the third-base umpire waved it off and said he’d called time before the pitch. O’Sullivan exchanged words with the umpire, but the call stood. Donaldson walked on the following pitch.
“It was upsetting,” O’Sullivan said after the game. “I appreciate them not throwing me out of the game because they certainly could have.”
Aleman retired the next two batters, but instead of the inning being over, there were two outs and a runner on first. Center fielder Michael Sandle kept the inning alive with an infield single to put runners on the corners. Stokes singled to right field to bring a run home. DeLaTorre singled to left field to plate another. The hits kept coming and coming.
The Jaguars lined pitch after pitch to the corners of the outfield and paraded each other home one after the other to the tune of six consecutive singles. The Jaguar dugout grew louder and louder with each passing run as Florida’s heads hung lower and lower .
Donaldson broke the singles streak with a double before three more singles brought three more runners home. 10 consecutive hits for South Alabama resulted in 10 runs scored with two outs, and the lead was now 14-1.
DeLaTorre and Andrew Bates led the bottom of the seventh off with back-to-back solo home runs before Santi Martiel launched a three-run bomb into Dizney Grove for good measure. The lead was 18 runs, and the final two innings likened more to a funeral procession than a day at the ballpark.
Before the seventh inning could come to a merciful conclusion, the weather rolled in and the tarp rolled out for the second consecutive day. The Gators were left in an ugly limbo for an hour and 50 minutes, left to ponder an 18-run deficit and the end of a season for nearly two hours before play could resume.
A torrential downpour and ten consecutive outs later, the Gators gathered in the dugout one last time in 2021 as the Jaguars were left to celebrate their survival.
“We got beat,” O’Sullivan said after the game. “It’s one of the strangest games I think I’ve ever been involved with.”
The Florida Ballpark drainage system is state-of-the-art. If Gator fans squinted, they could almost make out the Florida’s season flooding away with the rainfall.
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.