GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Off the bat, it looked like Florida might leave the ballpark happy Wednesday night despite everything that had happened — or not happened — through the first eight innings.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Jonathan India served a well-hit line drive to deep right-center field with the potential tying run on base.
The No. 2 Gators had broken out of their funk earlier in the inning on JJ Schwarz’s first home run of the season and now had a chance to at least tie the game if India’s liner dropped.
But it did not. Florida Gulf Coast center fielder Gage Morey chased the ball to the warning track and made a terrific diving catch to end the game and close out a 3-2 win for the No. 23 Eagles at McKethan Stadium.
“I was hoping it didn’t bounce over; it would be a ground-rule double,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of his initial optimistic read on the liner. “But their center fielder could run; he had good closing speed. It was a heck of a play. It was, obviously, a game-saver.”
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That capped a two-game midweek sweep for FGCU (12-2) after they beat the Gators (10-4) by a 7-3 margin in Fort Myers, Fla., Tuesday night.
And aside from the ninth-inning excitement, Wednesday wasn’t any more encouraging for the Gators.
They had 3 hits through the first eight innings and had scored their only run to that point off a walk, single and wild pitch way back in the first.
Florida is hitting .252 through 14 games. The team entered ranked 152nd nationally with a .259 mark before continuing to trend in the wrong direction.
“We’ve only scored twice in 13 games in the first inning, so we talked about that, and we got on the board there in the first. But just did not make any adjustments in innings 2-8,” O’Sullivan said. “The other positive is we battled there in the ninth inning, so we’ve got to pull something out of that. Some guys are getting pitched the same way, and there’s just not a whole lot of adjustments. … We’ll continue to work on approach, but we’ve got to get some of our better players going. It’s just that simple. And they will.”
Schwarz had been scuffling along with most of Florida’s veteran hitters. After clubbing 25 home runs during the last two seasons, he still was looking for his first in 2017 when he came to bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth Wednesday.
He hammered a 1-2 pitch from reliever Sterling Koerner over the wall in left-center to breathe some life into that slumping offense.
“I think it gave us a lot of life. I mean, we battled there in the last inning, and we were inches away from coming back. That was a hell of a catch and credit them,” Schwarz said. “But I think we battled there in the last inning. I just wish we could have done that all nine innings.”
With one out in that final frame, pinch-hitter Mark Kolozsvary singled through the left side before Nelson Maldonado hit a hard liner right at the left fielder and India’s liner to the gap landed in a diving Morey’s glove.
And that was it.
“I’m hopeful [we’re] going to build off the ninth inning,” O’Sullivan said. “I mean, that’s all you can do. You can’t talk about innings 2-8, just keep beating them down. It’s a game of confidence as well. So, we’ll build off the ninth inning, take it into Friday night and play Seton Hall. There’s nothing else to say.”