Taylor Gushue had a career night, hitting safely in all four of his at bats, and the No. 20 Florida Gators (4-2) flew out of the gates scoring three runs in the top of the first. Despite those efforts, it wasn’t enough to get the Gators past the No. 17 Miami Hurricanes (3-2) as the Canes used the long ball to power their way to a 6-4 victory in the opening game of a three-game series Friday night.
Richie Martin led things off for Florida with a leadoff single and was quickly moved over by Casey Turgeon’s sac-bunt. Gushue lined a ball into left field to plate Martin and get the Gators on the board. After Pete Alonso grounded out to third, the Gators used back-to-back hits from juniors Braden Mattson (a RBI double) and Justin Shafer (a RBI single) to widen the gap and give Florida a 3-0 lead.
“It seemed like the game hadn’t even started yet and we had three runs,” Gushue said. “I was pumped.”
It wasn’t the start that Miami expected out of their Friday night starter Chris Diaz. Diaz finished the 2013 season with a 1.64 ERA in 109.2 innings and earned the opening day win this season, going five innings and striking out seven against Maine.
A veteran, Diaz settled down and worked into a groove against the Gators, giving up just four more hits dispersed over six innings of work. He mixed his pitches well, kept the Gators off balance and was able to work out of a few jams by getting Florida to chase balls out of the zone.
“I thought Chris Diaz was outstanding,” Kevin O’Sullivan said of the Miami pitcher.
With Diaz working himself into a groove, it was time for the Miami bats to do their part and they didn’t wait long. Florida LHP Bobby Poyner, fresh off of a brilliant opening day start a week ago, set the Canes down in order in the first inning — throwing just nine pitches –before the train derailed.
Miami got to Poyner in a big way in the second inning, forcing the lefty to throw 30 pitches while surrendering two runs. The Canes tacked on two more runs in the third via a wild pitch and the first of three homeruns that Miami would send into the night at Alex Rodriguez Field. The three Miami home runs on the night were more than the Gator pitching staff had surrendered in their first five contests combined.
Even as Diaz found a comfort zone, the Gators were still able to set themselves up in advantageous situations — they just lacked the clutch hitting that had won them four of their previous five ball games.
“We had our opportunities, we had first-and-third, one out and we struck out, didn’t put the ball in play,” O’Sullivan said. “We had first-and-second, nobody out and we went out of the zone on a 2-1 count and hit into a double play there. We need to be a little more selective, run the count to 3-1, who knows what happens there.”
Back at it tomorrow
The beautiful thing about baseball is that there’s always tomorrow; a clean slate to right the wrongs of yesterday and take out the frustration of a disappointing loss.
Florida will go with freshman Brett Morales, who struggled in his debut last Saturday against Maryland, but has earned the confidence of his catcher who doesn’t think playing against a perennial powerhouse on the road will phase the young righty.
“Brett’s a stone-faced kind of kid,” Gushue said. “He’s just that way. I don’t think we’ll need to do much calming him down, just getting him focused on the job we need to do.”
Freshmen pass their first road test
No matter the outcome, there is always a silver lining. The bright spot for the Gators on Friday was how their young freshmen handled their first road test of the season. Ryan Larson was 2-4 on the night; Buddy Reed was 1-3 and had four putouts in center field and even though he went hitless, Pete Alonso continues to hit the ball hard. Left-hander Kirby Snead turned in another gem out of the bullpen, working one inning, striking out three batters and keeping his pitch count at just 14, making himself available tomorrow if need be.
“Larson, other than the one line drive to left, he had a good game. Buddy Reed had a nice game; he played a real good defensive game in center field. Pete Alonso hit the ball hard. I thought our freshmen handled it pretty good, to be honest with you. That’s something to take away from this.”