Final season opener at McKethan Stadium is a win

Kirby McMullen walked up to the plate with Post Malone’s “Saint Tropez” playing through the stadium speakers.

“Such, a long time. I’ve been waitin’, I’ve been waitin’ for a long time,” Malone croons on the verse.

The song fits McMullen well. The senior from nearby Ocala came into the year with just 31 career at-bats for the Gators but was starting at third base and hitting third in the lineup. McMullen went 1-2 with two walks as the Gators beat Marshall 9-2 to open the 2019 season. It was his first start at third base and he’s been praised all offseason by his head coach, who plans on playing McMullen a lot this spring.

“I’ve dreamed about this since I was a kid,” McMullen said of being an everyday starter at Florida. “It’s pretty cool that it’s real life. It’s an honor playing for the University of Florida and putting on this jersey every single day. It was a really special moment for me.”

Over my four years here I’ve been trying to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given.

The Gators started the night with a short, well-done video clip celebrating the last season opener at McKethan Stadium. The family of Alfred A. McKethan threw out a ceremonial first pitch as well. Next year the team will be in a brand new, state of the art, $65 million dollar ballpark but McKethan still has a lot of time to make new memories.

Junior Tommy Mace drew the start and was good early on. Mace relied heavily on a fastball sitting between 94-95 and his cutter sitting 88-87. The cold weather on Friday made gripping the ball an issue, meaning Mace only threw two changeups and a handful of curveballs but for six innings his two pitches were enough.

“It’s more just not having the feel for it,” Mace said of the way he mixed his pitches tonight. “Maybe throwing it later in the game to get guys off of the cutter, maybe when guys are sitting hard and I mix in a curveball and it slows them down.”

Florida jumped on Marshall early. Jud Fabian singled to shortstop to start the game off for Florida and advanced to second on a one-out walk to McMullen. Kendrick Calilao’s two-out single would score Fabian to give Florida a 1-0 lead.

Marshall would tie the game in the third inning but Florida answered right back with a run of its own, another run scored with two outs. Florida’s first four runs and seven of their nine all came with two outs on Friday night.

Mace’s night went well. He had a throwing error, which resulted in a run and he allowed eight hits on the night but settled down. As a Sophomore mace was thrust into the Friday night role and it was a mixed bag. This year he’s the guy on Friday night, which is a lot to stand up to considering the lineage of Florida’s Friday night guys he’s following. This year he’s working on just staying within himself, letting bad plays and pitches roll off his back rather than linger in his mind.

Florida tacked on two more runs in the fourth inning and then freshman shortstop Josh Rivera introduced himself to the 4,441 fans in attendance with a home run to left field. Rivera is just the second true freshman to start at shortstop for Kevin O’Sullivan but the head coach says it’s something he’s earned.

“He’s a very confident kid, I know that,” O’Sullivan said of Rivera. “He’s got a chance to be a really good player. He’s got a chance to follow in the footsteps of some of the guys we’ve had play that position over the years.”

Sophomore Kris Armstrong, who had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow over the summer, added to the total with his first home run of the season in the seventh inning. Armstrong was a two-way player, a switch hitter, and a pitcher than can throw with his left and right arms. Having surgery forced Armstrong to miss out on playing summer ball and focus solely on hitting and playing defense. That has paid off, as he’s been one of the Gators’ hottest hitters in the offseason.

Armstrong watched a nasty curveball to start his last at-bat.

“He threw me a nasty curveball first pitch and I wasn’t sitting curveball necessarily but I was anticipating it,” Armstrong said. “I had the ability to wait back a little more and I think that’s what helped me throw my hands at the ball and keep my weight back.”

It worked and the ball got out in a hurry.

The Gators will look to take the opening series, something they’ve done 12-consecutive years, tomorrow at 4 pm.

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC