Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

Jud Fabian barely needed to watch the ball fly through the dim Gainesville sky. He tossed his now-unneccessary bat to the dirt as the ball sailed into the visitor’s bullpen of Florida Ballpark.

3-2, Gators lead.

“I figured…they’d give me a first-pitch heater,” Fabian said. “And I got a first-pitch heater.”

Florida (16-5) battled off a potential upset from Bethune-Cookman (8-12) Tuesday to win 3-2 behind a pair of solo home runs from Fabian and a combined one-hitter from the Gators bullpen.

The early innings felt littered with missed opportunities from both dugouts despite no offensive fireworks. The Wildcats chased Florida starter Nick Pogue off the mound with four walks in his first six batters faced. Despite not recording a hit in the opening frame, Bethune-Cookman scored a run when left fielder Malik Stephens stole home and left three runners on base in the top of the first.

The visitors extended the lead to two in the third inning with the help of a hit batter and a single from center fielder Christopher Patterson. A fielding error by Florida’s Colby Halter eventually cleared the path for the second run.

The Gators only nabbed two hits of their own in the first three innings at the plate but stranded a runner in scoring position in each inning with a trio of walks. In the bottom of the third, first baseman BT Riopelle dug into the batter’s box with the bases loaded but grounded out to keep the Gators scoreless.

The slumbering Florida offense finally stirred in the fourth and fifth innings. Catcher Mac Guscette laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to plate run number one in the fourth. Fabian led the fifth inning off with a high shot toward left field that eventually landed in the visitor dugout, his first trip around the bases for the night.

While the Gators offense nursed a flame, Bethune-Cookman’s bats froze over. Five straight scoreless innings suffocated the optics of an upset, with zero hits and three baserunners from the fourth to eighth innings. 

Sophomore right-hander Nick Ficarrotta, who took the mound for Florida in relief of Pogue in the first inning, tossed 4.1 innings without an earned run, allowing one hit and dispatching the 16 batters he faced in 38 pitches. Freshman Florida arms Tyler Nesbitt and Philip Abner followed with a combined three hitless innings.

Fabian slammed the go-ahead kill shot in the bottom of the seventh. The moonshot was his 10th home run of the 2022 season and 42nd at Florida, enough to move him to sixth all-time in school history. Tracing back to Feb. 24, 2021, the junior outfielder muscled 30 home runs in his past 76 games. His three-for-five night rose his 2022 batting average to .322 with 18 strikeouts in his 75 at-bats, his 24% strikeout percentage well below his 2021 mark of 35.1%

“Obviously, everyone knows he’s (Fabian) got power but I think his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been phenomenal,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “His strike-zone management is entirely different than previous years.”

Freshman right-hander Karl Hartman took the mound for the ninth inning. Despite the tying run working all the way to third base, Hartman retired the final two batters looking and Florida emerged with a 16th victory for the season.

The Gators take their home diamond again this weekend with a three-game series against Louisiana State, with Friday’s first pitch set for 7 p.m.

“We’re expecting to win,” Fabian said about the upcoming series. “This is a confident group.”

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