JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University (3-1) earned 12 hits on the night, but the one that mattered was the last. The Dolphins played host to No. 2 University of Florida (3-1) in their home opener Tuesday night, and a walk-off single from Scott Dubrule cemented a 3-2 victory for the Green and White.
The decision handed the Gators their first midweek loss since April 14, 2015, and Dolphin Head Coach Chris Hayes his first home win.
"The guys have been competing all day," said Hayes. "Their starter was unbelievable, but our guys continued to compete all day and try to stack those at-bats together. It all comes down to the resiliency of this team. They never stopped believing. They knew that with the work they put in so far they earned this win and they knew they were going to get it done. We just needed a spark, and Dakota getting a huge base hit got everything going. Once the game was tied, we knew it was ours."
Casey Kulina got the start against the second-ranked Gators, and did a great job of managing the Gators' bats. Florida came in to the game with four guys hitting above .400, but against Kulina they were limited to just two runs on five hits and one walk. The redshirt senior from Hummelstown, Pa., pitched seven innings with just one earned run and six strikeouts, earning a 1.29 ERA.
"I thought we played great defense all day," said Kulina. "It was just a matter of time until our offense came through the way it did. We have a group of guys that love to fight and never count themselves out. On my end, it was all about staying the course and minimizing whatever damage they did and give our offense a chance."
The Gators struck first in the top of the second. A Dolphin error allowed Mike Rivera to get on base, and two batters later, he got home on a fielder's choice with runners on first and third and one out. Florida's Michael Bryne allowed hits to Sam Armstrong and Mike Cassala but stranded them both, and after two Florida led by one.
In the third Florida again played situation ball. After leadoff batter Dalton Gutherie smacked a single in the gap between shortstop and third he got to second on a wild pitch. The next Gator then grounded out to Angel Camacho, but Gutherie again advanced. India then grounded out to second, putting Gutherie across to stretch Florida's lead to 2-0 in the top of the third. Kulina forced a pop out to end the inning. Nathan Koslowski singled to right field to leadoff, but again JU couldn't string together the hits. After three Florida led 2-0.
Neither team scored for the next five and a half innings, though Florida did come close to snagging a third run in the top of the ninth. With Tyler Santana on the mound in relief of Kulina the Gators used back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second with just one out. The next Gator up singled straight to Connor Stephens, and it looked like the Gators would get at least one across. Instead Stephens charged the ball and ripped it straight to Cassala at the plate, who tagged the runner out at home. Momentum began to swing heavily the Dolphins' way, and with runners on first and second Santana forced a flyout to end the inning. Heading into the bottom of the ninth it was Florida 2, JU 0.
"Unbelievable job attacking the baseball," said Hayes on Stephens' throw home. "He fielded it clean, threw an absolute bullet strike to Mike Cassala and Mike picked the ball and stuck the play. Going from 2 to 3 was a huge play, and being able to hold that run was really big for us."
Dakota Julylia began the bottom of the ninth with his first hit of the season, a dinger that hopped right up the middle. With no outs Stephens followed Julylia's example and smacked one just to the left of the second baseman to put two runners on with no outs. Camacho struck out, but then the Gators brought in a lefty to face off against Armstrong.
In Armstrong's at-bat the Gators' Andrew Baker lost control of his delivery, allowing Stephens and Julylia to advance to second and third, respectively. Armstrong then hammered a double deep into left field, tying up the game. Both Cassala twins were walked after impressive at-bats, and Dubrule singled past third on the first pitch to earn the 3-2 win.
"I always stick with a simple approach no matter who the team is. You don't put them on a pedestal," said Dubrule. "We were off balance a little bit. We were getting hits but just couldn't string'em together, so we knew we were bound to score. Dakota finally got on at the end, Sam had that huge hit, and we just got it done. It was a team effort."