File photo JACKSONVILLE — Florida catcher Mike Rivera wasted little time Tuesday night giving the Gators an early cushion over Florida State.
Strong defense by the infield along with Rivera’s three-run blast in the top of the first inning led the No. 9 Gators baseball team to a 4-1 win over No. 12 FSU at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
“I didn’t really think it was going to go out,” Rivera said of his first home run of the season. “That was huge for us.”
Freshman pitcher Garrett Milchin had little trouble repeatedly retiring the Seminoles’ (18-8) batters in his first start. The 6-foot-5 Milchin would give up no runs on two hits to go along with three walks and a strikeout for his first win.
“I think I made a mistake not pitching him more,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I think the issue you get into with our (bullpen) being so young, you’re finding positions for him to be successful. And sometimes you’re over-protective. I probably needed to get him out there more. What he did tonight doesn’t surprise me.”
Despite the early four-run lead, Florida would need a series of stellar defensive plays from its infield.
FSU sophomore Jackson Leuck had runners in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth, but Gators sophomore third baseman Jonathan India turned a double play to end the inning. Junior shortstop Christian Hicks turned in an all-around performance for the Gators (17-9), who improved to 12-3 in their last 15 match-ups with the Seminoles. Hicks’ throw to first barely beat FSU’s Quincy Nieporte to the bag to get Florida out of the inning unscathed.
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“We have one of the best defenses in the country, year in and year out,” Milchin said. “It’s hard to describe how much of a confidence booster it is knowing that if you fall behind in the count, or you don’t have your best stuff that day, you can literally just throw it down the middle and chances are they’re going to hit it at somebody and they’re going to make a nice play.”
The Seminoles ended a scoreless streak of 36 innings against the Gators’ pitching staff with their run in the sixth inning.
Sophomore Michael Byrne took the mound in the sixth inning and retired 11 of Florida State’s final 12 batters to earn his second save of the season.
The Gators have a chance to earn their first SEC road victory of the season when they travel to Missouri for a three-game series with the Tigers starting Friday.
“Just like anybody in our league, if we don’t play like we need to, it will be a tough weekend for us,” O’Sullivan said. “But I’m excited about how the offense is coming.”