GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It wasn’t the hardest hit ball of the night — quite the opposite actually — but it was the biggest.
With 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th inning, Mark Kolozsvary blooped a single to shallow left-centerfield on an excuse-me check swing that broke a scoreless tie with rival Florida State.
That’s the only run the No. 5 Gators would get and the only one they’d need while closing out a 1-0 win over the No. 1 Seminoles on Tuesday night before a crowd of 5,806 at McKethan Stadium.
“I mean sometimes you place it perfectly, I guess, and it worked out. So, good win,” Kolozsvary said. “… I don’t know how I put it perfectly right there. Sometimes it happens.”
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) March 15, 2017
Florida’s pitching staff, meanwhile, wasn’t far off from perfect.
Freshman right-hander Nate Brown threw 5 scoreless innings for the Gators (13-5), allowing 3 hits, 0 walks and collecting 4 strikeouts.
And the bullpen was just as good.
Fellow freshman Andrew Baker (1-1) earned the win, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief with 0 hits, 0 walks and 4 strikeouts. Yet another freshman, Tyler Dyson, then closed out the win while striking out 2 in a perfect ninth inning.
The Gators held the Seminoles (13-4) to 4 hits and 0 walks in the victory while winning for the 8th time in the last 9 meetings, including 3 straight shutouts.
“It was a good ol’ pitchers duel. We had some young freshmen step up and grow up actually,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Brown, the freshman righty from Hartland, Wisc., was making just his third appearance and second start of the season. He came in with a 6.75 ERA over 4 total innings, but he found his rhythm quickly Tuesday night.
O’Sullivan said he talked with the young pitcher Monday, explaining what he felt he needed to do to have success against the top-ranked Seminoles.
“The first inning I went out there, my warmup pitches were, I was feeling a little nervous,” Brown admitted. “But after the first batter it was just like normal. I just felt confident.”
Brown closed a perfect top of the 1st inning with back-to-back strikeouts and retired the first 8 batters overall. Overall, he allowed only 2 base runners before giving up back-to-back singles to Nick Derr and JC Flowers with 2 outs in the 5th. He stayed in and got Matt Henderson to fly out to center to end the frame and end his night.
Brown, who has now thrown 8 straight scoreless innings since a rough debut, lowered his ERA to 3.00
Freshman Kirby McMullen allowed a Taylor Walls single to lead off the 6th, and Baker would take over with that runner on second with one out. He got a fly out and ground out to end the threat, struck out the side in the 7th and added another K in a perfect 8th.
“I felt great tonight for some reason. I think it was the big rivalry I heard (about) since I’ve been in high school, middle school. I felt really good. I loved it out there,” Baker said.
Meanwhile, the Florida offense did just enough to make all that great pitching count.
Jonathan India hit a one-out double to right-center in the bottom of the 7th and a few batters later Kolozsvary came to the plate with two outs.
“It looked like a fastball and I was just trying to put a barrel on a ball, and then it looked like it was more in and I tried to check swing and then it kind of took off for me,” he explained of his fortuitous half swing.
Said O’Sullivan: “Lo and behold a check swing wins the ballgame. It’s crazy, the game sometimes is unexplainable. On Saturday, Keenan Bell hits a ball off the top of the wall and a couple more inches it’s a 3-run homer and we’re not going into extras. Today we win a game on a check swing. It’s hard to explain sometimes.”
Dyson has been emerging as the Gators’ likely closer and earned his first collegiate save with his perfect 9th, punctuated by a called third strike against Cal Raleigh to fire up the home crowd.
Andrew Karp (0-1) was the tough-luck loser for Florida State despite allowing 5 hits and 1 run over 7 innings.
The Gators have two more meetings with the Seminoles, March 28 in Jacksonville and April 11 in Tallahassee.
Florida was coming off a rough week in which it dropped two games to Florida Gulf Coast and went 2-1 against Seton Hall with a tough extra-innings loss.
Beating the top-ranked team in the country — at least in one poll — was a nice response.
“We’ll keep working at this thing and we’ll get the offense going,” O’Sullivan said. “And I think once this offense gets going the way it’s capable — which I know it is — with our pitching we’re going to be tough to beat.”
NOTES: Florida was without starting shortstop Dalton Guthrie on Tuesday night as he is dealing with some arm tenderness, according to O’Sullivan.
“I think Dalton will be fine,” he said. “Obviously we’ll have to see how he feels tomorrow or the next day. But certainly don’t want to push it on a night like tonight.”
Christian Hicks started at shortstop and played solidly in the field while also going 1-for-3 at the plate. …
Florida has now held Florida State scoreless for 31 straight innings in the series.