GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan doesn’t want to make a big deal of it, but his Gators are hitting home runs at pace not seen by the program during his decade-plus tenure.
And more than double the rate from last season, for what it’s worth.
With 3 more homers Wednesday night in a 10-3 win over Jacksonville, No. 2 Florida is up to 36 through 23 games.
That rounds up to 1.6 per game, which would top the rates of 1.3 in 2010 (83 homers in 64 games) and 1.1 in 2012 (75 in 67 games) among O’Sullivan’s most powerful squads. And there’s the comparison with the 2017 team, which happened to win the College World Series. That national championship squad had only 17 home runs through its first 23 games last year and needed 48 games to hit this many.
All that said, O’Sullivan simply took in stride when asked about the power surge Wednesday night.
“I don’t know, you never know what to expect. Obviously we’ve got some guys that have some strength and have put some good swings on some balls,” he said. “And tonight we felt it might be one of those nights with the way the wind was blowing out early on in the game.”
Indeed it was.
JJ Schwarz got it started with a solo home run to left in the bottom of the fourth inning, his 6th of the year.
The next inning Wil Dalton teed off on one, clubbing his 9th homer to retake the team lead from Jonathan India. And later that same inning Blake Reese crushed one over the visiting bullpen in right-center for his second of the year.
“I don’t want to sound like I say the same thing over and over, but I think the consistency of guys obviously being healthy certainly has something to do with that,” O’Sullivan said simply.
That definitely helps. But so does the addition of Dalton, a junior college transfer who has been on a tear all season.
Though he was also not in the mood to bask in the Gators’ power surge, not after adding 3 strikeouts to his stat line.
“It’s been fun. It’s been everything that I expected to do. I’m very confident in my ability. I had a big jump in power last year and I figured I would stick with it again this year,” Dalton said, managing to answer the question despite his simmering frustration. “I’m not too happy, even though I did [hit a homer], I’m not too happy with how the night went. I did go down with 3 Ks. I’m not happy with that at all. That’s got to get fixed.”
Dalton has been a revelation for the Gators (19-4). He’s tied for third on the team with a .322 batting average, ranks second with a .678 slugging percentage and leads the lineup with 22 RBIs.
“I know I have it. It’s there. I am going to hit a couple out, but I’m still a guy that’s going to hit for average,” he said. “I’m not some 6-4 giant that’s just here to hit home runs. I’m here to hit for average. I try to stick with that. Lately it just seems like every swing I’ve put on a ball it has gone out.”
He hasn’t been alone.
Even if nobody wanted to talk much about it Wednesday night, after another lopsided win with a lot of season still ahead, it’s worth putting this prodigious pace in perspective for the moment at least.
The Gators’ current slugging percentage of .508 would be the highest for the program since 2003, if it sustains.
“I think it’s more of a mindset,” second baseman Deacon Liput offered. “I think a lot of the older guys are doing a really good job of staying in their legs and, believe it or not, not trying to do too much, which is resulting in everybody having a good swing and just putting good swings on balls and just kind of getting them up in the air and they’re going.”
Going, going, gone.
Liput actually had the best offensive day Wednesday night without a homer, going 4 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs. It was a much needed jolt, raising his average from .161 to .257.
“It was a good team win. It felt really good to help contribute to that,” he said. “Our pitchers did an outstanding job. It took us a little bit to get going, but once we did we did a good job getting ahead and giving our pitchers some cushion.”
Freshman Hunter McMullen got the start and pitched 3 scoreless innings, giving up 4 hits and a walk.
Andrew Baker (2-0) earned the win in relief with 3 scoreless innings, allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk.
Austin Langworthy (2 for 3, 1 run), Nick Horvath (2 for 4, 1 run, 1 RBI) and Cal Greenfield (2 for 4, 1 RBI) also had multiple hits.