GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There was a June feel to Tuesday night’s showdown between No. 1 Florida and No. 4 Florida State as the in-state national powers tangled for the second time this season.
Tension and emotions ran high throughout a dizzying array of pitching changes and big moments until Florida’s Daniel Pigott delivered the game-winning RBI single through the middle in the 10th inning for a 4-3 victory.
“It’s hard to try to work up a smile, but I will say this, I saw a baseball team handle a lot of situations on the road that make me proud,” said FSU coach Mike Martin. “I saw pitchers come in that pitched extremely well when they had to. You have to take off your hat to Florida. They got the big hit in the ninth and they did a very good job of producing their runs.”
Neither Martin nor Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan spared any expense in an attempt to even this year’s four-game series at one each. The Seminoles used nine pitchers, while the Gators sent six men to the hill in an attempt to avenge their 5-3 loss to FSU on March 1 in Tampa.
Pigott’s career-high fourth RBI of the night, which followed his game-tying, two-run single in the eighth, did just that, ending the 3-hour, 48-minute affair.
The largest crowd in McKethan Stadium history – 5,930 – was treated to the first extra inning game between the rivals since March 31, 2004, which the Gators won 7-6 in 11 innings. It was also Florida State’s first extra inning game since an 11-10, 13-frame victory over Jacksonville on May 4, 2010.
“It’s funny how one game during the week is magnified so much,” said Martin. “We had a great crowd – a record.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it. Florida deserved to win it. When you fall behind 4-0 with a club that played as well as we did, you have to take your hat off to them.”
The Seminoles did all of their damage in the third inning against short-lived Florida starter Alex Panteliodis (1-1). Mike McGee led off with a single up the middle and clean-up hitter James Ramsey won the left-on-left match-up decisively, hammering a two-run homer over the right field fence to five FSU a 2-0 lead.
Panteliodis got Jayce Boyd to ground to third for the first out, but Rafael Lopez closed out his night with a double into the left field corner. UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to right-hander Greg Larson, who retired Stuart Tapley on strikes for the second out.
Florida State sophomore Justin Gonzalez turned on Larson’s next offering, to the plate, depositing it deep into the left field grandstands for a 4-0 lead.
“I was just going up there trying to hit the ball hard,” said Gonzalez, who like Ramsey, collected his second homer of the season and first of his career against the Gators. “I got a pitch to hit and I hit it. Thank God it went out.”
The Gators pecked away at the lead scoring single runs in the third and fourth off FSU starter Hunter Scantling. Daniel Pigott’s RBI double in the third plated Florida’s first run. Tyler Thompson’s RBI single in the fourth halved the deficit and ended Scantling’s night.
From that point forward the baseball game more closely resembled a chess match between Martin and O’Sullivan, who spent the next couple hours trying to match batters and pitchers.
“I probably used more pitchers tonight … I don’t know when I’ve used nine, but I’m going to tell you one thing, if they pitch like that we’ll use 10 one night to win a ballgame,” Martin said. “I’m very proud of this ballclub. It was a good game.”
From Scantling to Robert Benincasa, Connor Nolan, Tye Buckley, Mack Waugh, Daniel Bennett, Robby Scott, Jack Posey and finally closer Mike McGee, the Seminoles collectively held the Gators at bay through multiple challenges. Florida stranded a season-high 13 runners on base before breaking through with the tying runs in the eighth.
Florida stranded the potential winning run at third in the home ninth when Brian Johnson singled, pinch-runner Paul Wilson stole second and took third on a wild pitch with no outs. Posey struck out Mike Zunino and gave way to McGee, who got an infield pop and a fly to right to stave off defeat.
McGee and the ‘Noles could not repeat the feat in the 10th after Nolan Fontana led up with a triple into the right field corner. Pigott, who was 3-for-4 to lead UF’s 11-hit attack, singled back through the middle to bring the night to a close.
Florida’s bullpen effectively shut down the Seminoles after they grabbed their 4-0 lead.
FSU’s best shot at padding their lead came in the eighth when Rafael Lopez singled and moved up when Stuart Tapley was hit by a Mike Maronde pitch. With two outs and tension running high, Seth Miller singled sharply to right.
UF right fielder Preston Tucker came up firing home and Zuzino’s sweeping tag of Lopez ended the inning.
Lopez (2-for-4) led FSU’s nine-hit attack.
While there was disappointment, Martin and his players were largely encouraged by the 10 inning, error-free performance against the nation’s top-ranked team.
“When emotions get into a rivalry game like that, it’s exciting,” said Ramsey. “It’s definitely something I feel a whole lot better about even after the game. We didn’t have anybody with their heads down. We know we’re going to lose sometimes, especially to good ballclubs.
“I’m just very pleased with the way we responded to adversity. Maybe we did let it slip away a little bit, but you’ve got to capitalize when a team gives you a break and that’s what they did tonight.”
The Seminoles won’t have long to languish over the loss. FSU travels to No. 5 Virginia for a three-game ACC series, beginning with Friday’s marquee pitching showdown between Sean Gilmartin and Danny Hultzen.
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