GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two home runs in a five run fourth inning led the Florida Gators (31-13) to an 8-7 win over the Florida A&M Rattlers (23-20) on Tuesday night at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium. FAMU rallied to score two runs in the top of the ninth and threatened to beat the Gators for just the second time in program history, but came up just short against the No. 9 team in the country.
Octavien Moyer, Dallas Oliver and Aubrey McCarty each singled to open the ninth inning. Trailing 8-5, McCarty's single through the right side made it a two-run game, and a wild pitch moved the tying run into scoring position with no outs. Gators' reliever Garret Milchin recorded a key strikeout before Brian Davis grounded out, scoring Oliver and moving the potential tying run to third, but Kodi Russ grounded out to Milchin to end the game.
The Rattlers, who tallied 13 hits on the night, wasted no time getting the bats going as they struck for three runs on five hits in the top of the first inning off Gators' Freshman starter Andrew Baker. Dallas Oliver led off with a sharp single to right then swiped second base on a pickoff attempt. Willis McDaniel lined a one-out single to center placing runners on first and third for Brian Davis who singled just inside the third base line for the game's first run. Kodi Russ and Garrett Wilkinson added RBI singles to open the lead to 3-0 before back-to-back groundouts ended the threat.
The Gators scored their first run of the night with a little help from the Florida A&M defense in the bottom of the second. After a leadoff double and a walk, Josh Wilson forced an infield fly for the first out and was a ground ball double play from getting out of the jam. Florida stole both runners on a full count to the next batter to avoid the double play, but Wilson walked Ryan Larson. On the play, FAMU catcher Russell Rauh made an errant throw attempting to throw out the runner stealing third, allowing the Gators to score, making it a 3-1 game.
Florida used two home runs and a sacrifice fly to take the lead in the bottom of the fourth as they scored five runs on four hits. The first five batters for the Gators reached base off Wilson, before he was replaced by Thomas Nicoll. Christian Hicks led off with a solo home run to right – his second of the season. Ryan Larson singled and Keenan Bell was hit by a pitch before Garrett Milchin homered to right – the first of his career, and second of the inning for the Gators. Deacon Liput followed with a double, ending the day for Wilson. Nicoll retired the first two hitters he faced out of the bullpen, but a passed ball and a sacrifice fly allowed Liput to score, giving the Gators a 6-3 lead.
Florida A&M trimmed the lead to 6-5 in the top of the fifth with two runs on four hits. McDaniel walked with one out and Davis singled for the second time on the night, placing runners on first and second for Russ, who added his second hit and second RBI with a single just inside the first base line, scoring McDaniel from second. Kaycee Reese then drove in Davis for the second run of the inning for the Rattlers with an RBI single through the left side. Rauh was the fourth consecutive Rattler to single, but Russ was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second to end the inning.
The Gators added two insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh to push their lead to 8-5. JJ Schwarz walked and went first-to-third on a single by Christian Hicks. A wild pitch allowed Schwarz to score and a sacrifice fly from Milchin later in the inning put Florida ahead by three.
FAMU had the Florida faithful on edge in the top of the ninth with runners on second and third with no outs in a two-run game, but Milchin came in and recorded the final three outs to pick up the first save of his career.
Wilson (0-4) took the loss after allowing six runs (four earned) on seven hits in three innings.
The FAMU bullpen held the Gators to just two hits and two runs over the final five innings to keep the game in reach. Thomas Nicoll gave the Rattlers 2.2 innings of outstanding relief as he struck out three and didn't allow a hit. Dallas Oliver also threw the ball well, striking out two in the bottom of the eighth in his first appearance on the hill for Florida A&M.
Offensively, Florida A&M had four players with multiple hits on the night. Kodi Russ and Brian Davis each had two hits and two RBI, while Dallas Oliver had two hits and two runs scored, and Garrett Wilkinson recorded two hits and an RBI.
Kirby McMullen (3-0) picked up the win for the Gators after tossing 3.1 innings out of the bullpen.
The Rattlers return home to Moore-Kittles Field to face the University of North Florida at 3:00 PM on Wednesday before hosting North Carolina Central for a key MEAC Southern Division series this weekend.
As always, fans can follow Rattler Baseball on Twitter @BaseballFAMU and on Facebook.