When the Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers squared off at McKethan Stadium on Thursday night, it was billed as a duel between future first-rounders on the mound, in the form of probable top-10 pick Brady Singer and possible No. 1 talent Casey Mize.
When Jonathan India squared up in the bottom of the first inning, he stole the show.
India whipped a Mize cutter into the left-field bleachers at McKethan to give Florida a 2-0 lead in the first frame, and neither team really got to either ace after that point, with the Gators fending off an Auburn threat and scratching together another run to take a 3-1 win over the Tigers.
The home run was India’s 14th on the season, pulling him back within two of fellow slugger Wil Dalton, and it and a hit by pitch on an errant throw from Mize in the fourth inning evening helped raise his batting average slightly — to .416 on the season, good for sixth nationally — and were the catalysts for Florida’s offense. India would score post-plunk, with a two-out rally of singles through the left side for Austin Langworthy and Brady Smith getting him over and in.
And that run in the fourth was helpful, but ultimately only insurance, because of how Auburn squandered its lone full-fledged threat of the night.
The Tigers got two men on with no outs in the top of the fourth on an Edouard Julien single and a hit by pitch from Singer, but opted to sacrifice bunt to put a runner on third with one out. That decision generated a run on an RBI groundout, but Singer recovered with a full-count punchout to escape the inning.
That sort of impressive work was done by both Singer and Mize all night. Outside the fourth, Auburn managed multiple base-runners just once, in the second inning, and the Tigers never strung together multiple hits in one frame; Florida did that only in the first, with a single setting up India’s homer. Singer set down eight batters on strikes and walked two in his seven innings, while Mize fanned 10 Gators and showcased his fuller repertoire over his seven innings, and only really got tagged on the homer.
And Florida loading the bases in the bottom of the eighth immediately after Mize’s exit might well have put how well Mize did to attack Florida’s loaded lineup in sharp relief to many of the many assembled MLB front office personnel.
Walked into the yard for Auburn-Florida and first four scouts I saw were a team president, GM, scouting director and a special assistant— Kiley McDañiel (@kileymcd) April 26, 2018
There is a team with president/GM/director here, more than a few GMs, about as many scouts as I’ve ever seen at UF and there’s been some big time matchups here. Gausman/Zunino is one big one that comes to mind. https://t.co/ZPFSfWSH6V— Kiley McDañiel (@kileymcd) April 26, 2018
in case you want to guess who was here tonight: one GM in the photo, two just out of frame https://t.co/44xZiARAkc— Kiley McDañiel (@kileymcd) April 27, 2018
And those scouts and decision-makers had to love what they saw from India, who has rocketed to first-round contention by virtue of an improvement in his approach and a power surge that has made him a menace in the middle of the lineup.
Florida still has three more SEC series to go, and SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament play beyond that. But it will almost certainly not see a better pitcher than Mize this season.
And on the night the Gators did see perhaps the best pitcher outside the MLB system, their own ace was just as good — and their best hitter was better.