Nick Horvath saw the signal from coach Kevin O’Sullivan with one out left to go, trotted from center field and made his way back to the mound.
Two innings earlier, the junior lefty fought back from a 3-0 count with the bases loaded to force a groundout on a full count and strand all three UCF runners.
Another full-count battle ensued, this time with Knights pinch-hitter Austin Griffin. And then, with his 17th pitch of the night on his second mound appearance, Horvath struck out Griffin swinging to preserve No. 2 Florida’s 4-3 win over UCF on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium and earn his first save of the season.
“You have to go right at them,” Horvath said. “Right from the get-go.”
In a game where Florida (7-1) recorded just four hits, the Gators opened scoring in the third inning with a Blake Reese double to center field that was about 5 feet short of clearing the fence. Reese himself scored three at-bats later when UCF shortstop Brennan Bozeman failed to properly field a Jonathan India groundball.
Reese added more insurance in the fourth with a bloop single to shallow center to score Keenan Bell before UCF (7-1) attempted to mount a comeback. The Knights scored a run each in the sixth and seventh before Mark Kolozsvary cranked out a solo home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the seventh to give UF its decisive score.
Freshman Nate Brown, making his first career start, earned the win after three scoreless innings of work. The righty scattered three hits, struck out five and walked two before giving way to a trio of freshmen in Kirby McMullen (2.0 innings), Andrew Baker (1.0 inning) and Garrett Milchin (0.1 inning). The trio of relievers combined to give up five hits and a pair of runs with one strikeout to two walks against a veteran UCF lineup that had six upperclassmen in the starting lineup.
“There’s a lot to be said about players who have 400 or 500 college at-bats under their belt and guys who are coming to the mound for the first time that have never pitched before in a live game,” O’Sullivan said. “From that standpoint, I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Horvath recorded the pivotal two outs in the seventh before senior Frank Rubio took over to pitch a perfect eighth and get two outs in the ninth. Horvath, who went to center field after his first appearance, came up with a pair of runners on for a situational matchup facing a lefty batter to clinch the game.
Florida will now travel to Orlando for a second midweek game against UCF on Wednesday.