On a chilly Jacksonville evening, a nagging breeze danced across Dusty Rhodes Field at Harmon Stadium. The wind nudged fly balls around the outfield without favor.
The unrelenting forces of nature became evident for left fielder Austin Langworthy. In his first two at-bats, he struck the ball well into deep left field, only to have both die just in front of the warning track for a pair of easy outs.
But if Mother Nature had an equal in stubbornness, it was Langworthy. Leading by a pair of runs in the top of the seventh, the lanky lefty roped a single to the same unforgiving left field that had denied him twice. Langworthy’s savvy baserunning propelled him to third on a Brady Smith single, and he sped home on a Nick Horvath sacrifice fly to pad Florida’s advantage to three.
Manufacturing runs proved to be the offensive theme for the Gators (8-1) in their 4-0 shutout of North Florida (3-5) Tuesday night. Of Florida’s four runs on the evening, three resulted in outs being recorded on the play (groundout, sacrifice fly, fielder’s choice).
After Langworthy led off the Gators’ batting order the first eight games of the season, coach Kevin O’Sullivan moved the sophomore — as well as a couple of other UF batters — around in the lineup. Langworthy’s swap to the seven spot from his top position signaled a willingness from O’Sullivan to be more proactive about his hitters’ dry spells.
Langworthy entered the game hitting just .133 on the season, well below his .238 mark from last year. Over the course of Florida’s recent weekend series with Miami, he garnered just one hit in 12 at-bats after hitting safely in his previous three games.
The Gators’ defensive calling card Tuesday night resided on the mound. Freshman Jordan Butler made his second career start and didn’t disappoint. The southpaw bewildered Osprey batters through six scoreless innings with six strikeouts while allowing just one hit and no walks.
“Our pitching was just outstanding tonight,” O’Sullivan said in a release.
Fellow freshman Jack Leftwich followed Butler with similar zeal from the rubber. Though he allowed the leadoff men to hit safely in the seventh and eighth innings, he bridged the gap to the ninth by forcing a double play and striking out a pair of batters. Closer Michael Byrne shut the door on any potential comeback with just one hit allowed in the ninth.
Florida’s two-game series with the Ospreys wraps up tonight in Gainesville at 6.