After a weekend series victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, the team buses for Florida baseball arrived in Gainesville at 4 a.m.
Whether it was an extra cup of coffee or the bad taste left from Sunday’s collapse, the No. 9 Florida Gators (16-5) avoided a potential trap game, defeating the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (8-12) 3-2.
Sophomore Nick Pogue received the start, but it was freshman Philip Abner who earned the win.
The season debut for Pogue, who returned this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the Spring of 2021, was far from perfect. Allowing an earned run, three hits and three walks through fewer than two innings, he contributed to a March 13 loss to the Seton Hall Pirates.
Pogue would not find refuge in the first inning of his second outing.
A leadoff walk of Bethune-Cookman junior Malik Stephens would spell trouble for the Melbourne, Florida, native, as Stephens got all the way to third by stealing second and tagging up on a pop-out. The left fielder opened up the scoring for the day, stealing home to put the Wildcats up 1-0.
Three-straight walks after the earned run was enough for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to pull the trigger on activating the bullpen.
“He hasn’t had that opportunity to rehab and tune to our hitters,” O’Sullivan said. “So this is his first time out. I know he’s probably frustrated. This is part of the process.”
Freshman right-hander Nick Ficarrotta took over for Pogue, successfully closing out the top of the first with a leaping catch on the mound.
With the exception of one run that was caused by an error at third base, occupied by sophomore Colby Halter who usually plays at second, Ficarrotta dealt through the Wildcat bats with confidence. Working 4.1 innings, the Palm Harbor, Florida, native allowed just one hit, no earned runs and delivered two strikeouts on 38 pitches.
On offense, the theme of the day was missed opportunities.
In each of the first three innings, the Gators put a runner in scoring position but failed to record a run.
Florida finally got one across the plate in the fourth thanks to a line drive singe by freshman Ty Evans, finding a void in shallow-left field to start the frame.Fellow freshman Rene Lastres advanced the leadoff batter to third with a single of his own.
With runners on the corners, sophomore Mac Guscette successfully performed a sacrifice bunt to bring Evans home from third and cut the Wildcat lead to one.
Junior Jud Fabian kept the vibes going in the fifth after a quick one-two-three top of the frame from Ficarrotta. In the leadoff at-bat, Fabian sent a rocket to left, just missing the berm and landing in the Bethune-Cookman bullpen instead.
After a dormant opening third of the game, Florida found life.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt took over for Ficarrotta in the Wildcat side of the sixth, putting forth a brief, yet solid performance. Still on a pitch count, as Nesbitt also recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Labelle, Florida, product only pitched an inning but generated two K’s and no hits.
Taking over for him was Abner. Arriving in the seventh inning, he put forth two hitless innings that were enough to earn himself the win. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native finished the night after 31 pitches, two strikeouts and just one walk.
In the bottom of the seventh, Fabian was once again the leadoff batter. As the Ocala, Florida, native arrived at the plate, the weekday crowd at Florida Ballpark hushed. They anticipated another shot going yard.
That’s what they got.
Landing in nearly the same spot as earlier, Fabian’s second bomb of the night was significant for two reasons. For one, it gave him sole possession of sixth place in Florida’s all-time home runs list. Secondly, it gave the Gators the lead.
Freshman Karl Hartman entered the game in the top of the night to close the festivities out. The Wildcats caused some trouble, though, earning a walk and advancing the runner to second on a ground out. That runner, the tying runner, then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Still, Hartman kept Bethune-Cookman at bay with a game-closing strikeout.
It wasn’t always perfect, but the Gators secured a solid weekday victory against the Wildcats. Now, the Louisiana State Tigers loom large.
“We’re expecting to win,” Fabian said. “This is a confident group.”
Contact Carson Cashion at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.
Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.