Blake Purnell admitted he was confused.
Florida assistant coach David Kopp came to him in the fall and told him he was going to improve his pitching speed.
“I was confused at first,” Purnell said. “But I would never second guess it.”
Florida made Purnell a sidearmor and hoped the walk-on could be effective enough to give the Gators an inning here or there.
They didn’t expect it.
He certainly didn’t expect him to be the key to the Florida turnaround this baseball season.
On Friday night, Poornell played a 3 1/3 inning of relief to save against No. 2 Arkansas.
On Saturday, with the wind gusts toward right field, he came into a tie game and was dismissed for five straight as Florida won again by scoring twice in the eighth.
“That’s a great story,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
And it was a great weekend for a team that didn’t have much to feel good about.
O’Sullivan spoke openly with his team after losing the opener on Thursday.
“I tried to put things in perspective,” he said. “When you go through life there are some things you have to go through.
“We were resilient this weekend. A few weeks ago, we wouldn’t have been hanging out there.”
On Saturday, Florida blew off a pair of leads scored on three-run homers by BT Riopel and Wyatt Langford. Tied 7-7 after an Arkansas homer by Jack Gregory, Poornell entered the game to pull out of the innings.
Derrick Fabian delivered a forward sacrificial fly on the 0–2 pitch and his brother Judd scored a home rendition for an insurance run.
“Derrick’s bat was huge,” O’Sullivan said. “For a new person to step into a position like this…”
Poornell finished ninth and secured his third win with three saves and 1.19 ERA. He has pitched in 19 of Florida’s 32 games and was cornered by his teammates after the last dismissal.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Purnell said. “Hopefully, this will lead us in the right direction.”
This will be the question later on. Florida made it through the first series of the Murderers Row schedule with two wins in three games and the Gators in the conference are now 21-11 and 5-7.
“This weekend was fun,” Riopel said. “It was the funniest series I’ve ever played.”
It could bring Florida back up the rankings—as if they matter—but the Gators have a road game against FSU and a road series at Vanderbilt before a series against No. 1 Tennessee.
“When things have gotten worse, we haven’t been able to stop the bleeding,” O’Sullivan said. “Today, we helped them back (with a critical error), but we were able to move on to the next game.
“But we can’t get too ahead of ourselves. We feel as good as we are now, if we don’t play well next weekend, we’ll feel bad again.”