Florida’s bats came alive on Sunday afternoon — well, more alive than they had in the first two games — but the Gators were aided by a Maryland pitching staff that couldn’t find the plate, walking nine batters in an eight inning game that was ended early due to NCAA Sunday travel rules.
By winning the rubber match of the three-game series, 8-5, the Gators took the season-opening series against the Terrapins of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s a series win,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said after the win. “We’ve got a very young team and they [Maryland] have a lot of experience coming back. I thought it was a really quality opponent, I don’t think this is going to be the last you hear of Maryland.”
Karsten Whitson took the mound for the Gators to start the Sunday series capper, the first time in more than 600 days while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Whitson was less than sharp but had good velocity, hitting between 91-92 and touching 93 once. He threw 48 pitches (28 for strikes) while giving up four hits three runs (all earned), walked two and struck out two in two innings of work.
Maryland got to Whitson early, scoring three runs in the top of the first on a single from Kevin Martir and double from Blake Schmit.
The Gators battled back as they did all weekend and responded in the bottom of the inning. Richie Martin and Ryan Larson walked to start the game and Martin was later driven in by a sacrifice fly from Taylor Gushue.
“We fell down 3-0 in the first inning, but we bounced right back and scored a run right there,” Martin said. “We swung the bats well and it was a great team win. It was great to get the series.”
Whitson settled down, working a scoreless second inning, and the Gators went back to work in their half of the inning. Two more walks, a single loaded the bases for Martin who lined a one-out single into center field to cut the deficit to 3-2. Florida tacked on three more runs, aided by a hit batter and wild pitches from the Maryland staff. By the time Maryland put out the fire, the Gators held a 5-3 lead even though they managed only two hits.
Florida added three more runs in the fifth inning. Braden Mattson walked with one out and freshman DH A.J. Puk doubled down the right field line, scoring Mattson for his first career RBI for the Gators. Martin doubled (he had two on the day) down the left field line, bringing Puk around to score. Martin stole third and scored when the third baseman couldn’t come up with the throw.
Maryland responded but their rally was too little and too late as the Gators held on for the win.
Eric Hanhold came on in relief of Whitson and earned the win with Ryan Harris coming in for the one-out save in the eighth inning.
Martin shines on the opening weekend
Sophomore shortstop Richie Martin started the season off right against Maryland. Martin finished the series hitting .454 (5-11) with four runs, three RBI and a pair of doubles.
Personal numbers aside, Martin was just happy to get two wins to start the season off right.
“I’m just glad we got two wins to start off. I mean, yesterday was a little disappointing but I was glad to come out and start off pretty hot,” he said. “I just want to keep it going. To tell you the truth, right now, it doesn’t really matter. It just matters how we end and how we play in the SEC.”
On top of hitting the ball better than any other Gator this weekend, Martin was a wall at shortstop. He makes the routine look effortless and the difficult plays look routine.
UCF on deck
There are no cupcakes for the Gators and for a freshmen-laden team, a quick turnaround and something they might not be used to. After three games in three days, the Gators will have Monday off before hosting UCF on Tuesday night.
Martin and some of the veterans will talk with the freshmen and tell them how to get through the season, which is far more of a marathon than a sprint.
“That’s the thing, just moving from high school to college baseball, transferring from about 30 games to 56 or more with the post season. You have to prepare yourself for the long season,” Martin said. “You have to rest your body.”
UCF is coming off of a sweep of Siena this weekend and after that Florida will host UNF, which is projected to win the Atlantic Sun Conference. It’s a tough, tough schedule and O’Sullivan wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We play a good schedule,” he said. “I think at the end of the year you’ll look up and we’ll have, in my opinion, the hardest schedule in the country again. Our mid-week games are hard, we play some quality people on the weekends and then we start conference play.”
“We don’t play any cupcakes, this is a good schedule.”