As soon as the pitch hit the dirt, Jonathan India took off.
Florida’s sophomore third baseman raced 90 feet in a tie game and dove head first for home. As the ball fell out of the catcher’s glove and the umpire called him safe, India let out a scream of relief.
India’s run was the culmination of three straight seventh-inning miscues from the William & Mary defense that allowed the No. 3 Gators to rally for a 5-4 season-opening win on Friday night in front of 5,402 fans at McKethan Stadium.
“I just sacrificed myself and took a chance,” said India, a former standout at American Heritage. “It worked out.”
Heading into the seventh down 4-3, UF second baseman Deacon Liput opened the frame with a walk before the Tribe’s defense collapsed. India ripped a groundball to third baseman Zach Pearson only for him to overthrow the first baseman and allow both Liput and India to get into scoring position.
One batter later, JJ Schwarz hit a dribbler about 20 feet in front of home plate that relief pitcher Nick Raquet bobbled before throwing to first base, allowing Liput to score the game-tying run.
And then India found himself racing home to give Florida (1-0) its first lead of the game after Raquet threw the pitch in the dirt.
“It was pretty big for us to come back and get that one,” Schwarz said. “Hopefully we take that momentum into the next couple of games.”
The three William & Mary (0-1) blunders counteracted an average season debut from Florida starting pitcher Alex Faedo, the preseason All-American who had as many highs and lows in his first start since having arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees during the fall. The junior righty was responsible for all four runs UF surrendered in the win, two of which came after he left a pair of runners on base when he was pulled in the fifth. He gave up four hits -- including a solo home run from Brandon Raquet in the second inning that opened scoring -- struck out seven and walked three in 4 2/3 innings of work. His fastball touched 95 mph early on and his slider reached 85 mph during the game.
Sophomore Michael Byrne earned his first career win by closing the game with three scoreless innings. He gave up just one hit in that span while striking out four.
The miscues saved a Florida offense that stranded seven runners in the first six innings and struggled to muster eight hits against William & Mary's pitching staff.
And the opponent’s mistakes erased a fifth-inning miscue from UF sophomore center fielder Blake Reese, who couldn’t track a two-out line drive from Cullen Large that flew over his head and drove in two runs to give the Tribe a 4-1 advantage.
Florida then rallied in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out, two-RBI Schwarz single to right-center field before pulling away for good in the seventh. Schwarz drove in three runs during the game.
“We got through it,” said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who improved to 9-1 in season-opening games as UF’s head coach. “It’s the first night. For whatever reason, everybody’s overanxious maybe.”
The season-opening series continues Saturday at 4 p.m. with the finale set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
For O’Sullivan, he wants his team to continue to play aggressive, like his third baseman did in the seventh inning to give the Gators the lead for good.
“We have a heart in the game,” India said. “We have nuts. We all play as a team together.”