GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Freshman catcher Nathan Hickey broke out of an early-season slump this weekend, and he put quite the exclamation point on a remarkable stretch Sunday afternoon, belting his fourth home run in as many games to give the top-ranked Gators a 2-1 victory over South Florida. Florida, the only remaining undefeated team in Division I, improved to 16-0.
With the game tied and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Hickey drove the first pitch of his at bat off the right scoreboard pillar to put the Gators in front.
Sophomore Ben Specht came on for the ninth, picking up his third save of the year with a scoreless frame. Fellow sophomore Christian Scott earned his second win of the season, tossing a pair of hitless innings. Freshman Hunter Barco started for the Gators and impressed once again, throwing six innings and allowing just one run on two hits and two walks. Barco logged seven strikeouts.
Florida's only other run of the afternoon came from small ball. Sophomore outfielder Jacob Young chopped a two-out single up the middle, extending his hitting streak to 17 games. Hickey singled to left, moving Young to third. Although sophomore Kendrick Calilao struck out swinging, he reached first via wild pitch, and Young scored on the same play.
South Florida's only run came across with a combination of a leadoff single and one-out double in the sixth inning.
5-0 - Florida's record in games decided by two runs or less this season. The Gators were 12-7 in games decided by two runs or fewer last year.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT:
Hickey. No surprise here. The freshman entered Wednesday's game against Florida A&M with a .241 average (7-for-29) through his first 10 appearances. In the four games since then, Hickey is 7-for-13 (.538) with four home runs, six RBIs, five runs, and three walks.
The freshman is also the first Gators hitter since Wil Dalton to homer in four straight games. Dalton hit five home runs during a four-game streak in 2018, beginning with a pair of homers against South Carolina (March 17) and ending with a homerless outing in the second game of a series against Arkansas (March 24).
FROM COACH KEVIN O'SULLIVAN:
On the win today...
"Thought their starter had a really good breaking ball today. It was the best one we've seen all year long, and we were kind of caught in between fastballs and breaking balls. Credit their starter. He did a really nice job. And their guy at the end had a really good slider. So we saw two really good arms today. As far as Hunter [Barco], I thought that's the best he's pitched all year long. He pitched like a veteran. He made big pitches when he needed to. Started off a little shaky, ran his pitch count up in the first a little bit, but he really settled in and had some really good sliders today. For him to go out there and match their starter pitch for pitch, I thought that was really good. Christian Scott and Ben [Specht] came in and did an outstanding job. And we got the big home run from Nathan [Hickey].
"We won it a different way today. Credit South Florida. They played hard today, and they threw some really good arms at us."
Florida faces No. 11 Florida State in the Sunshine Showdown Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. In his postgame media availability, Coach O'Sullivan said he expects to start sophomore right-handed pitcher Nick Pogue against the Seminoles.