Young pitchers make it easy for Gators

It’s not supposed to be this easy. Freshmen pitchers are supposed to struggle and they’re supposed to have problems controlling their emotions in tight situations. Maybe that’s true of most first year guys but there was a quiet confidence about Alex Panteliodis when he took the mound Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium to face the eighth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.

On a pitch count of 75, similar to the one placed on Patrick Keating on Friday night, Panteliodis maneuvered his way though six innings, allowing five hits and only two runs to lead the 11th-ranked Florida Gators to a 10-4 win over Louisville before a crowd of 3,483. Panteliodis kept the Cardinals hitters off balance and impatiently hacking at first pitch change-ups straight into the ground all day.

“He threw the ball very well,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He only walked one guy, which was the leadoff guy who ended up scoring, but he threw it well. He didn’t seem to get rattled. That’s him. He did pretty much what I thought he would do. Go out there, compete and give us a shot to win.”

Panteliodis was unwavering. No matter what happened with the previous batter, he toed the rubber and went after hitters the same way. It was never more evident than the fourth pitch of the game when he missed his spot and Louisville’s Josh Richmond turned the mistake into a home run over the fence in left center field. 

“A little shaky at the beginning,” Panteliodis said of his performance. “My teammates were there to pick me up. I knew it was over with, so I came back, went after the next guy and kept going with my game.”

The Gators gave their freshman pitcher a shot of confidence when they answered in the first inning. Avery Barnes led off with a walk and scored when Matt den Dekker doubled into the corner in left to tie the game.

“I knew my teammates would be right behind me,” Panteliodis said. “Our offense is pretty good, so we just came right back and answered.”

Florida’s half of the third inning began harmlessly enough but turned into two manufactured runs with a little help from Louisville’s shaky infield defense. It started with two outs when den Dekker reached first when he was grazed by a 1-2 fastball and continued when Josh Adams reached when his routine grounder to shortstop was bobbled. Brandon McArthur loaded the bases with a walk and that was followed by another routine grounder, this one tapped toward second by Preston Tucker. Instead of an inning-ending groud out, the ball went through the wickets of Adam Duvall, allowing den Dekker and Adams to score. 

“That’s the way we’re taught,” McArthur said. “Big innings come when you have an error or walk, and then you get the hit. We were able to produce runs.”

Louisville cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth but the Cardinals’ chances for a big inning were ended when right fielder Riley Cooper leaped at the fence to bring back what would have been a home run by Duvall.

“Us outfielders … anything that’s in the air, we’ve got to catch,” Cooper said. “It was a pretty good ways [over the fence]. That’s the highest I can jump.”

Coach O’Sullivan couldn’t be happier with what he is getting out of his right fielder. Cooper said he has been hitting since there were 3-4 weeks left in the football season, so he’s far more advanced than last season.

“He’s a lot further along [than last year],” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got a lot more reps. He’s been on breaking ball machines in the cages. He’s seeing it better. He’s such a good athlete. On top of everything else, he’s had a really, really good attitude. He’s fit right in with the guys. A lot of the younger guys especially look up to him with his success on the football field. He’s been a great teammate and leader. It’s going to be fun to watch him play this year.”

Cooper’s defensive gem ignited the Gators offensively. In their half of the fourth they responded with five runs to take an 8-2 lead.  Cooper led off with a hustle double down the left field line and Teddy Foster took a fastball in the back to put runners on first and second. Mike Mooney’s job was to sacrifice the runners over but he didn’t have to waste the out, drawing a walk instead.  After den Dekker tapped to the mound for the first out of the inning, the Gators manufactured two runs when Barnes got hit with a pitch and Adams drew a walk.

McArthur followed with a base-clearing double into the gap in right center but he was cut down trying to stretch it into his second triple in two days.

“I got a little greedy,” McArthur said with a grin. “One out, I figured why not try it? I guess I was being a little greedy. [The knee] is feeling good. I’m able to show up early and get treatment. I’ve been doing it for six years now.”

Given the big cushion, Panteliodis followed with two shutout innings to finish his day of work.

The Gators added a bit of insurance in the sixth, getting started when Barnes beat out an infield single and advanced to second on the throw, Louisville’s fourth error of the day.

The offensive onslaught continued in the 6th for the Gators. Barnes led off with an infield single, advancing to second base on a throwing error, Louisville’s fourth of the day. The Gators got their second base runner of the inning when den Dekker got hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. Adams singled to drive home Barnes and move den Dekker to third. After McArthur was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Tucker hit into a double play that scored den Dekker with Florida’s final run of the game.

Panteliodis was relieved by fellow freshman Will Jolin in the seventh. Jolin gave up a leadoff single and a home before settling down to finish his first collegiate inning with two strikeouts.

Kevin Chapman returned to the mound for the first time since May 25, 2007 when he came in during the eighth inning. He missed all of last season with surgery on his left shoulder. He gave up two hits in the heart of the Louisville lineup, but fought well to give up no runs.

Freshman Anthony DeSclafani threw the ninth inning for the Gators. After retiring the first two hitters on ground balls with relative ease, he gave up a double and hit Jeff Richmond with a pitch but he retired Andrew Clark with on a dribbler back to the mound to end the game.

The Gators made it through the game with three freshmen and a sophomore who hadn’t pitched in two years, a good omen for things to come for Florida’s pitching staff.

“It’s really important,” O’Sullivan said. “Against Louisville, you don’t anticipate getting a lead like that. Anytime you’re able to do that and get some freshmen in there, it’s only helpful down the road.”

The Gators will go for the sweep of Louisville on Sunday afternoon, sending another freshman, lefty Nick Maronde to the mound. Louisville will throw righty Matt Lea. O’Sullivan expects the outing by Panteliodis on Saturday to give Maronde a shot of confidence.

“Nick is a really confident kid,” O’Sullivan said. “He doesn’t say a lot, but he’s pitched on a big stage before. He pitched for the USA National Team and his high school team leaned on his for the past few years. He’s highly recruited and very mature. I like watching him pitch. He’s got a quick pace and he attacks. I’m anxious to see him out there tomorrow.”

First pitch Sunday is schedule for 12 p.m.