Scott Carter’s Blog Carter’s Corner
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For those sleeping on Florida’s baseball team, might be time to wake up.
The Gators appear to have.
This season was sort of a mystery from the first pitch. Most expected the young Gators to be better than a year ago, but how much, or how fast, no one really knew.
If you happened to be on Twitter late Tuesday night – around 9:44 to be precise – you probably noticed a few tweets darting through your timeline if you follow the #Gators closely.
That score seemed to catch people’s attention on social media. It should have.
The No. 1-ranked Seminoles pulled up to McKethan Stadium and unloaded their 17-2 record and Atlantic Coast Conference-leading .308 batting average with bad intentions. They also brought their hard-throwing closer if needed, the best quarterback-turned-pitcher in college baseball this spring, Jameis Winston.
Winston never left the dugout. The Seminoles had nothing to close.
There was a save recorded in Florida’s 3-1 win, and it belonged to Florida left-hander Bobby Poyner.
Poyner faced nine batters and threw 31 pitches, 24 for strikes. All nine of those FSU batters walked back to the dugout after making an out.
Poyner’s perfect outing was just one of several clutch efforts from the Gators in Tuesday night’s win, one witnessed by 5,657 fans – or more than some of those Braves games I attended in the late 1980s.
In the top of the third the Seminoles loaded the bases with no outs against Gators starter Danny Young. Up stepped DJ Stewart, FSU’s most dangerous hitter. Stewart fouled out to third for the first out. Young then struck out cleanup hitter Brett Knief before facing John Nogowski.
Nogowski hit a sharp grounder deep into the hole that Gators third baseman Josh Tobias fielded. Tobias momentarily slipped as he contemplated making a play at third. Instead, he regained his footing and threw a strike across the diamond to retire Nogowski for the final out of the inning.
“That’s a long throw,’’ Poyner said afterward. “The guy hitting was a pretty good runner. Any mishap and that play doesn’t get made.”
It got made, though, and when Tobias stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the inning, he drilled a pitch from FSU starter Peter Miller into the left-field bleachers for his first home run of the season.
That’s what they call a momentum swing.
“It felt really good,’’ Tobias said.
When Young gave up a leadoff single in the fourth, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to the bullpen and inserted Aaron Rhodes. Rhodes struck out four in three innings, the only mistake a home run by FSU’s Jose Brizuela.
With the momentum back on FSU’s side, rather than wilt, the Gators quickly responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth. Richie Martin’s leadoff double started the rally and Harrison Bader, facing reliever Bryant Holtmann following a sacrifice bunt by Casey Turgeon, greeted the left-hander with a double to right field that scored Bader with the go-ahead run.
Taylor Gushue added an insurance run with a RBI sacrifice fly, and Poyner did the rest.
After a 5-5 February, the Gators are 9-2 in March, with seven of those victories coming in games Florida scored four runs or less. The pitching has been superb overall, and if the offense can catch up, the Gators could be onto something.
“Moving forward it gives us a lot of confidence,’’ Bader said of the victory. “Our hitters are coming around more and more every game. Those key hits in those key situations are really, really important.”
At 14-7, the Gators need one more win to surpass half their total during last year’s 29-30 season. They have 35 regular-season games remaining as they head to Texas A&M this weekend for a three-game Southeastern Conference series.
And when they get back home the Gators have a rematch with the Seminoles in Jacksonville on Tuesday.
In other words, there is a lot of baseball left. But O’Sullivan is refreshed by the way his team has played of late.
“We played really good baseball since the UConn weekend [March 7-9],” he said. “We’ve been playing better. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think this team is confident. I think they are having fun right now.
“It’s very, very early in the year, but I do like the way we’re playing. I don’t want to get too far ahead … the next bunch of games are not going to be easy.”
More than anything, the win over the top-ranked Seminoles serves as the highlight of the young season. The Gators’ goal over the next two months is to make sure it’s not the highlight of 2014.
Poyner hopes there are more games -- and more wins in which everyone contributes -- like Tuesday's.
“I’m very happy with how the entire game went,’’ he said. “Offensively, timely hitting was great. Bader came up big. Tobias hit one in the bleachers. Danny did a great job [getting out of that jam]. We did a heckuva job as a club.”
Twitter seemed to think so.