GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning Saturday, Florida sent its hottest hitter to the plate in Ryan Larson.
He brought the fans to their feet with a flyball to deep right-centerfield, but it had just a little bit too much air under it and Tennessee was able to corral the third out to force extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, the Vols’ Benito Santiago doubled to left-center with a runner on first and two outs. Larson fielded it and fired a strong throw to shortstop Dalton Guthrie, but he bobbled the exchange on the relay as the go-ahead run scored.
Two pivotal moments, both going against the Gators. It’s been that kind of a series so far for Florida.
The visiting Vols’ 3-2 win Saturday was their second-straight 1-run extra innings victory to steal the series from the Gators with the finale still to play Sunday at McKethan Stadium.
“We’ve won our fair share of 1-run games and now we’ve lost a couple in a row. All we can do is just come back tomorrow, play a little bit better, get back to .500 in the league,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’ve only played 31 games. We’ve got a lot of baseball left. It’s frustrating, but just come back tomorrow and be ready to play.”
The loss dropped the Gators to 20-11 overall and 5-6 in SEC play. Tennessee, which had just one conference victory entering the weekend, improved to 17-11, 3-8.
Florida had set itself up for a potential walk-off winner in that bottom of the 9th when Mike Rivera and Nelson Maldonado drew back-to-back two-out walks to load the bases for Larson, who came to the plate with 7 hits in his first 9 at-bats in the series.
“I knew I got it good, but as soon as it was the off the bat I knew it had too much air under it,” he said afterward.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) April 9, 2017
And soon enough the game was over.
Justin Ammons reached on a one-out single in the 10th, reliever Michael Byrne responded with his second strikeout of the inning and then Santiago smacked the double to left-center.
With a clean relay exchange by Guthrie, the Gators had a strong chance to get the final out of the inning at home, but his bobble allowed Ammons to score easily.
Florida went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning to end it.
“I thought the relay throw by Ryan there in the 10th was a great one, and unfortunately we dropped the ball. They forced an error and it is what it is,” O’Sullivan said.
That wasn’t the only miscue O’Sullivan was lamenting afterward.
After a one-out single in the bottom of the 2nd, Larson stopped up at second base on Christian Hicks’ subsequent single on what was supposed to be a hit-and-run that should have taken him to third. Mark Kolozsvary followed with a third straight hit to load the bases, but the Gators came up empty when Garrett Milchin grounded into an inning-ending double play.
And in the 5h, Blake Reese was standing on second with one out when Maldonado blooped a single to right field. Reese got a late jump on the basepaths, rounded third despite an apparent stop sign from the third base coach and then got tagged out in a rundown.
“I don’t think there really should have been a mix-up at all because the right fielder’s playing so deep, as soon as the ball was hit you knew it wasn’t going to get caught. So there wouldn’t have been any decision at all whether to send him or hold him up,” O’Sullivan said. “As soon it left the bat you knew it was going to drop in front, he should have just had a better jump and it wouldn’t have been close.”
Florida was also without three of its most prominent players as Jonathan India, JJ Schwarz and Deacon Liput were held out of the lineup for disciplinary reasons. They are expect to be back in action Sunday.
“They’ll play tomorrow. Just team rules, that’s all,” O’Sullivan said.
The Gators managed 11 hits without them — led by Larson (3-for-5 with 1 run) and Kolozsvary (3-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 run) — but it still wasn’t enough to take advantage of yet another terrific start from Brady Singer.
The sophomore right-hander held the Vols to 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks over 7 1/3 innings. He racked up 8 strikeouts while following up back-to-back 1-run complete-game efforts his last two times out.
His ERA sits at a sterling 1.70 through 9 starts.
“I think command (has been key), and I feel like if I have my sinker going to both sides of the plate I’m going to have a good night. Or it’s the slider and the change-up, if I have both of those I feel like I can dominate,” Singer said.
As for not having the Gators’ regular lineup to support him as well Saturday?
“It hurts, but people behind them are just as good. It’s just one of those things,” Singer said.