GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The No. 15 Gators were the team to close strong on Saturday, taking the rubber game of their Southeastern Conference series against third-ranked Ole Miss, 6-5, Saturday afternoon at Florida Ballpark.
After Ole Miss (21-6, 7-2) evened the three-game series Friday night by scoring six runs in the last two innings, Florida (18-9, 5-4) struck back Saturday with home runs from Jordan Carrion and Nathan Hickey to move back above .500 in conference play.
The Gators got a solid start from left-hander Hunter Barco, who allowed six hits and three runs (two earned) over five innings. Barco walked one and struck out two. Meanwhile, Carrion chipped in on the mound, too. In the top of the seventh inning with runners on first and third, and UF nursing a one-run lead, Carrion moved from shortstop to the mound to replace reliever Trey Van Der Weide.
Carrion retired Justin Bench on a grounder to short to strand the tying run at third. He pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and recorded an out in the ninth prior to giving way to left-hander Ryan Cabarcas with two on, and one out. Cabarcas got the final two outs for his first save.
The Gators provided Barco with an early cushion on a pair of RBI sacrifice flies from Kirby McMullen in the first inning and Hickey in the third. In the fourth, Carrion connected for his first career home run to put the Gators up 3-0 against Rebels starter Derek Diamond (4 IP, 6 H, 5 R). The Rebels closed the gap to 3-2 with a pair of runs in the fifth before Hickey drilled a two-run homer to right to put Florida up 5-2. Jordan Butler extended the lead to 6-2 later in the inning with an RBI single.
After managing just three hits and striking out 18 times in Friday's loss, the Gators had eight hits and struck out only five times against four Rebels pitchers on Saturday.
FROM UF COACH KEVIN O'SULLIVAN
On importance of winning series...
"We got swept last weekend. It was an important game for us, no question. Hopefully this game will jump-start us a little bit. We need to learn to win close games like that. No one is a finished product at this point."
On Jordan Carrion's performance... "He's just a baseball player. He is going to throw strikes and he's competitive. I felt good with the effort he was going to give in a tight ballgame. He had a heck of a game. He ended up giving us some really quality outs at the end of the game."
On what he learned by altering pitching rotation... "Franco [Aleman] and Christian [Scott] were really good. With Christian and Franco, they give us some more options. The biggest takeaway is that our best arms need to throw the most innings. We've got some guys with some really good arms that need to pitch more."
ON DECK: The Gators return to action on Tuesday night when Stetson visits Florida Ballpark. The game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and will be streamed on SEC Network+ with radio coverage provided on ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF.