When you don’t have a lot of power in the lineup, you have to find ways to compensate and for the Florida Gators that means putting runners in motion. Florida stole six bases Sunday afternoon as the Gators finished off Siena 13-6 to cap off a three-game sweep of Siena at McKethan Stadium. The Gators ran the Saints silly over the weekend with 12 stolen bases, quite a contrast to last season when Florida managed only 39 steals in 59 games.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s fast tempo approach to the game means he’ll be sending runners no matter who is on base and no matter the situation. Five different players stole a base Sunday including catcher Hampton Tignor, who stole two bases including a theft of third base in the fourth inning. In three games, the Gators are 12-13 when they send the runners.
“Anytime you steal and guys cover bags, stuff will open up for us,” O’Sullivan said. “I know Hampton (Tignor) got a hit and then stole a base. He’s our catcher and nine-hole hitter, so we aren’t going to be scared to put guys in motion.”
Sending the runners opened up holes for hitters and Brandon McArthur and Jonathan Pigott each perfectly executed a hit-and-run to help Florida’s 11-hit attack.
The Gators got five strong innings from freshman starter Tommy Toledo, who gave up five hits, two runs and five strikeouts. Toledo’s only shaky inning was the fourth when he gave up a double and a two-run homer to Eric Mruczek. Toledo was on a 70-pitch limit Sunday but the Florida staff was quite pleased with his performance.
“He threw strikes and was around the plate,” O’Sullivan said. “He got one ball up in the zone and hopefully learned a lesson. The ball got better as the game went on. His arm looked fresh and he took control of the game with a good pace. He’s going to be good. He’s got a good live arm and a great demeanor about him too.”
Toledo was drafted in the third round (117th overall) last year by the San Diego Padres but he chose college baseball over a pro contract. That means he will spend three years in a college baseball uniform before he’s draft-eligible again. He has no regrets and believes he made the right decision.
“This was a big weight off my back already,” Toledo said. “Pitching here will only make me better. Right now I’m just looking forward to the next few years to see what we can do here.”
The Gators gave Toledo an early cushion to work with. Clayton Pisani got his first hit of the season in the first inning. After he stole second, Pisani was singled home by Cole Figueroa, who later scored on a fielder’s choice by Jon Townsend. Pisani said the first hit of the year took some pressure off him and made the ball look a little bigger in his next few at-bats.
“I was a little relieved, even though I knew it was coming sooner or later,” Pisani said. “It felt good after the first one and I started seeing the ball a lot better.”
Pisani finished the game 3-3, with two runs scored, a stolen base and two sacrifice fly RBIs.
The Gators broke the game open in the third inning when freshman Josh Adams connected for Florida’s first grand slam home run of the season. Leading 2-0, Pisani got the inning started with a double into the left center field gap. Figueroa and McArthur followed with walks to load the bases, setting the stage for Adams, who took a 3-2 pitch out of the park.
“Hard work doesn’t go uncomplemented,” said Adams, who added another home run in the fifth inning. “It was great to come out today and swing it a little better. The grand slam was a good feeling. I was looking curveball the whole time because they barely threw me any fastballs, so I was sitting back and put a good swing on it. It helped the team out a lot.”
Adams was looking for a curve ball again in the fifth when he smacked his second homer over the bleachers in left field. His line in the box score read 2-4 with two runs scored and five runs batted in.
The excellent opening weekend means O’Sullivan will have decisions to make about how to use Adams when sophomore Matt den Dekker returns from a three-game suspension Tuesday night. Den Denner was scheduled to start game one before he ran afoul of team rules.
“den Dekker is our centerfielder,” O’Sullivan said. “I think what Josh has done is prove that he’s got to play somewhere. It’s a good problem to have. You’d rather have a couple more players than you need than have a couple less. [Josh] has a way about him. He doesn’t act like a freshman.”
Though many Gator baseball fans are looking towards Miami next weekend, the Gator coaching staff is focused on the Tuesday and Wednesday matchups with Eastern Michigan.
“Any time you walk away with three wins you certainly feel good about it,” O’Sullivan said. “Siena has a good club and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in an NCAA Regional. Some of the things that we have been trying to implement, such as being aggressive on the base paths and putting the ball in play, showed this weekend.”