By Louis Addeo-Weiss
In what looked to be a battle of two sunshine state titans in the realm of college baseball, with the Florida Atlantic Owls and the storied Florida Gators, the Gators showed early on why they’re the no. 1 ranked team in the country.
Entering play, the Gators lead the all-time series 21-9. A Gators win would give them the best start in program history, giving them a 12-0 record. The team started 11-0 in 1989 and 2002, before doing it again this season.
If you were looking for a game dominated by starting pitching, then you tuned into the wrong matchup. By the end of three innings, 8 runs had already come across the plate between the two teams.
Owls starting pitcher Marc DeGusipe labored in the first inning, throwing 31 pitches, allowing 3 runs to score before the top half of the first inning was over. DeGusipe also hit first basemen, Kris Armstong, to go along with two walks issued.
It appeared from the outset that Gator hitters seemed to know what was coming, with the lefty tipping his pitches – having a nice, fluid motion when throwing his fastball, but slowing down entirely when going to the breaking ball.
“It’s been an issue trying to gather himself to make a really good pitch. Plus, I don’t think he’s gotten over the motion of playing college baseball yet. We have to just keep getting him out there and getting him reps. You see he can do it at times, and other times it just falls apart,” said FAU head coach John McCormack.
The Owls would strike back in the bottom half though, with third baseman BJ Murray hitting a two-run home run that just cleared the left-field wall at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
By the end of the second inning, the Owls had tied the game at three, thanks to a Wilfredo Alvarez single which brought home outfielder Jackson Wenstrom.
A scary sight came in the top of the third when a line drive off the bat of Gators’ first baseman Kris Armstrong hit runner Jacob Young in the leg with a line drive. Fortunately, Young stayed in the game, eventually scoring on a groundout by Armstrong.
Both starting pitchers were out of the game by the start of the fourth inning, with Gators’ pitcher, Jordan Butler, only lasting two innings. In 4.1 innings pitched this season, Butler now owns a 6.23 ERA, allowing 10 hits and 3 unearned runs (6 total).
Pitcher Adrien Reese, who relieved DeGusipe to start the fourth, worked around a base hit and a hit-by-pitch to work a scoreless fifth inning, finishing the night with two scoreless innings pitched.
The Gators relief core matched Owls blow-for-blow, with sophomore David Luethje giving the team 2.2 innings of scoreless ball. Luethje also added three strikeouts in the process.
A narrative that flowed throughout this game was the resiliency of the Owls – with a lot of credit going to them for keeping it competitive against the nation’s best program. After the top of the third, both teams pitched scoreless baseball through the seventh inning.
Things would, however, get ugly in the top of the 8th, as an Austin Langworthy fielder’s choice brought home shortstop Josh Rivera and an errant throw by FAU catcher Nicholas Toney allowed fellow catcher Cal Greenfield to score, making it a 7-3 UF lead.
The Owls would make it interesting in the bottom half though, with outfielder Mitchell Hartigan singling and Jackson Wenstrom doubling to set up second and third, though Christian Scott, who struck out 5 over 3.1 scoreless, escaped the jam.
If the game weren’t already exciting enough, the Owls would rally again in the ninth inning before Murray, who homered earlier in the ballgame, struck out to end the game.
With the victory, UF is off to its best start in program history, with a 12-0 record heading into Wednesday’s matchup against FAMU (4-5).
“Every player on that field tonight is a tremendous baseball player, but the one thing that they have back this year is they have their edge back….I hate to use the word swagger because it’s so overblown, but they know they’re good. They got hits when it counted, and they made pitches when it counted,” said McCormack.
The Owls looks to put the losing streak, which now sits at four games, behind them Wednesday night when they matchup against Miami (8-3) at home.