For weeks Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators have repeated that they had moved on past their 29-30 record from a year ago and were focused on the 2014 season.
Last week, they told us. Friday night, they showed us that they meant it with a 4-0 opening day shutout over the visiting Maryland Terrapins, the first opening night shutout for the Gators since 2006.
Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner got the opening night nod to kick off the 100th season of Florida baseball and the experienced veteran didn’t disappoint. Poyner threw 5-1/3 innings, allowing just three hits while walking two and striking out five.
Poyner started the game off by sitting the Terrapins down in order but got into a jam in the second inning. A leadoff single followed by a double set Maryland up with two runners in scoring position but ever the veteran, Poyner kept his composure and struck out the next two batters before intentionally walking Jose Cuas to load the bases. Poyner bore down and struck out Andrew Amaro to end the inning and the threat.
“Coming from an older guy, there were no nerves with him,” freshman outfielder Ryan Larson said. “He pounded the zone, went right at them it was awesome.”
Maryland righty, Jake Stinnett, started the night off dealing, getting the Gators to go down in order the first two innings. The senior was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s and looked to be a puzzle that the Gators wouldn’t be able to solve.
“The first couple innings he was 90-to-94 (miles per hour) and I’m thinking, ‘who does the scheduling?,’” O’Sullivan joked after the game. “I knew they were a real quality opponent and I knew they were a good team.”
Florida figured Stinnett out in the bottom of the third, exploding with three hits and an incredible base running job by freshman outfielder Buddy Reed.
Freshman Peter Alonso got things going for the Gators when he lined a Stinnett offering back up the middle for Florida’s first hit. Josh Tobias flied to left field for the first out of the inning but Reed drew a walk to give the Gators two men on with Richie Martin and and the top of the lineup due up.
Martin laced a pitch into left field for a single to load the bases. That brought Larson to the plate, who chopped an offering to third base for what appeared to be an easy force at home. Alonso ran hard and forced a quick throw that the catcher couldn’t come up with. The ball skirted away a few feet, allowing Alonso to score and Reed, unbelievably, was able to round third and tack on an extra run. Taylor Gushue would add the third run of the inning with a sac-fly two batters later.
The youth movement in Gainesville is real. The first hit of the season? Freshman Peter Alonso. The first run scored? Alonso as well. The first RBI? That honor goes to Larson, who drove in Alonso and Reed, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead at the time.
Florida would go on one more run in the third inning and one in the eighth to extend their lead to 4-0.
Bullpen gets the job done
After the great start from Poyner, O’Sullivan turned to his bullpen to close out the game.
Ryan Harris took over for Poyner in the first of what will likely be a team high in appearances this season. Harris made quick work of Maryland, getting a one-pitch, 1-6-3 double play to end the inning. Harris worked 1-2/3 innings of no-hit ball, striking out one and walking one.
Danny Young replaced him on the mound and earned the save, throwing two hitless innings, striking out one.
The biggest thing the duo was able to accomplish was being efficient — they combined to throw 3-2/3 innings in just 30 pitches.
“Thirty pitches between the two of them, so they’re both still available,” O’Sullivan said. “I think Danny threw 17 and Ryan threw 13 so they’re both available again tomorrow.”
For the third consecutive season the Gators had three freshmen in the opening day lineup with Larson in left, Reed in center and Alonso as the DH. The trio combined to go just 2-8 on the night but scored two runs and produced the defensive play of the night.
Reed flashed shades of Willie Mays in the outfield with an over-the-shoulder grab. The catch received a huge roar from the baseball faithful that made the trip out to McKethan Stadium Friday evening, but for Reed’s head coach, wathing him do those kinds of things has become old hat.
“I’ve been bragging about him, bragging about him for a while. He’s got skills, he’s got tools, and he’s got what the professional people look for,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s tall, he’s got arm strength, he can run, he’s a switch hitter but he’s got a long way to go. Tonight was a great night though. I think you kind of saw a glimpse of how he plays the game, he plays it hard, he’s aggressive, he doesn’t play it attentively he likes to play.”
The rest of the weekend promises to introduce Gator fans to more of the freshmen class, a class that O’Sullivan needs to perform well if the team is going to be successful.
Freshman Brett Morales will take the mound for the Gators Saturday when they face the Terps in game two of the three-game set at 4 p.m.