By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
Playing an extended weekend schedule that likely felt like postseason play, Florida Gators baseball has likely come to the realization that seeing its season go beyond 56 games will be a difficult task going forward.
Florida (6-6), which hosted a double round-robin tournament featuring the Illinois Illini (6-6) and FGCU Eagles (6-4) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL from Thursday-Sunday, came away from the event winning just one of four games.
The event opened with a pitching duel between Gators freshman right-handed pitcher Logan Shore and Eagles righty Michael Murray. Shore (6.0 IP, 6 H, 7 K) had a strong outing but unluckily got the call to be on the mound during a contest in which his teammates were struggling mightily both at the plate and on the field.
Florida committed a season-high four errors, allowing two unearned runs to score, and failed to provide Shore with any run support. UF had its best shot to tie game in the bottom of the eighth with one out and runners on second and third but only managed one run – a two-out RBI single from freshman catcher Braden Mattson (1/3, RBI) – to fall 2-1 in the opener.
Pitching was once again the story in the teams’ second meeting on Saturday. Redshirt junior RHP Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, H, 2 BB, K) put together his finest start of the season, going four-straight innings without allowing a hit. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to sophomore RHP Aaron Rhodes in relief, and he delivered with the longest outing of the career. Rhodes (4.0 IP, 2 H, 4 K) preserved the 4-0 shutout and made a strong case for seeing additional innings in future appearances.
At the plate, the struggling Gators had to take runs however they could get them. In the second inning with two on and no outs, Florida used three consecutive bunts from junior third baseman Josh Tobias (sacrifice), freshman outfielder Ryan Larson (RBI single) and junior redshirt junior right fielder Zack Powers (squeeze) to plate two runs. UF added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh with back-to-back RBI doubles from junior second baseman Casey Turgeon and junior designated hitter Taylor Gushue.
In the two games against Illinois, the Gators appeared completely lost at the plate, failing to score in the first 17 innings of those contests. The Illini’s Kevin Duchene went the distance Friday night, notching a complete-game shutout while only giving up three hits. Florida junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (4.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K) was unable to get out of the fifth, and freshman RHP Brett Morales (0.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, K, HBP) fell apart in the sixth by failing to retire any of the four batters he faced as the visitors cruised to a 6-0 victory.
Sunday’s rematch played out in almost identical fashion. For the first seven innings, UF’s bats were cold, but the Gators’ hurlers managed to prevent the Illini from putting up a big inning. Freshman LHP A.J. Puk (3.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) retired six of the first seven batters he faced but allowed two runs on two hits in the third.
In the top of the eighth, Illinois tacked on three key insurance runs against Florida’s relievers. Sophomore LHP Danny Young (0.0 IP, H, 2 ER, BB) had a particularly bad appearance even throwing a wild pitch despite only facing two batters, and freshman RHP Shaun Anderson (0.2 IP, 2 H) struggled to stop the bleeding by allowing two more run-scoring hits. The Gators managed to score one run in the bottom of the ninth to avoid another shutout but dropped the finale 5-1.
Though the season is still young, Florida’s weekend was terrible. The Gators wasted terrific pitching performances by only plating six runs in four home games against two mediocre teams. UF’s veterans have only combined for 10 RBIs through 12 games, and its fielders are having major problems as well.
Despite all the issues, O’Sullivan believes it’s too early to panic.
“We’re just in a rut right now. We’re not scoring very many runs and every pitch is so important, it’s taxing on your staff,” he said over the weekend. “The bottom line is we’ve got to stay positive; we’ve got to move this thing in the right direction, and it’s our job as coaches to get them going.”
Florida will try to snag a neutral-site win over Southern Miss in Pensacola, FL on Tuesday night before hosting UConn in next weekend for a three-game series.