So far, so good for Gator baseball.
Florida began a highly anticipated 2017 season by handling William and Mary this weekend in three straight games. The Gators used some late inning heroics to steal game one on Friday by a 5-4 score before flexing their collective muscle and cruising to 8-1 and 11-6 victories in the latter two games.
Through it all, Florida displayed the pure talent that many pundits predict will get them back to Omaha.
Alex Faedo was the only pitcher of note who struggled on the weekend, surrendering four runs in 4.2 innings on Friday. He’ll have better days, for sure, but he staked W&M a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning of the opener. Luckily, relievers Nick Horvath and Michael Byrne bailed him out by combining to allow just two hits while shutting out the Tribe the rest of the way. Meanwhile, veteran slugger JJ Schwarz got the Gators back into the game with a two RBI single in the bottom of the fifth and then tied the game with a RBI ground out in the seventh. Moments later, Jonathan India raced home on a wild pitch to score the go ahead and eventual winning run.
Florida wasted no time putting the second game away. Brady Singer struck out six and allowed just one run in five stellar innings of work in his starting debut before turning it over to Austin Langsworthy. And he did a great job too, keeping the Tribe off the scoreboard for 2.2 more innings. On the other side of things, the offense exploded for two in the second and three more in the third. A little while later, freshman Keenan Bell simultaneously picked up his first hit and first RBI by smoking one into left field. India put the finishing touches on the 8-1 victory with a two run homer in the eighth.
The finale was the most anticlimactic. Fellow young pitcher Jackson Kowar held the Tribe at bay while the offense held a home run derby. Langsworthy hit the first one, a two run job in the second inning down the right field line that bounced off a palm tree and also scored Mike Rivera. A few batters later, Deacon Liput hit an even more damaging one that cleared the scoreboard and appeared to land in the open trunk of a parked car. That one scored three and made it 7-0. And in the seventh, Bell put a bow on the series sweep with a two run shot out of the power alley in right. It mattered not the least that William and Mary scored six runs late in their last four at bats, as Kevin O’Sullivan elected to give more of his young pitchers some experience that could come in handy later down the road.
We didn’t learn much from this weekend, other than that O’Sullivan’s latest batch of recruits can play. And we could have pretty safely guessed that after watching his last six or seven recruiting classes pan out. “Losing” Buddy Reed and Peter Alonso from last year may soon be rephrased with “replacing them with Bell and Langsworthy”. Sure they’re younger, and have only played in three games, but they’ve proven to have all the tools and could have very bright futures. And of course, they’re only a small piece of this offense, as they join the already formidable lineup that features Schwarz, India, Liput, Rivera and Dalton Guthrie.
The pitching staff was slightly less impressive as a whole, but from a talent standpoint, UF probably has the best starting rotation in the country. Faedo looked a little off, but again, he’ll have better days. And again, the way his fellow hurlers stepped up was encouraging.
Finally, William and Mary is no joke. They won their conference tournament a year ago and pulled off a daring robbery in the Charlottesville Regional by eliminating top seed Virginia en route to the Regional Final. They brought nearly all the same pieces of that team to Gainesville. So no, this wasn’t a heroic effort against one of the country’s powerhouses, but it was a solid performance against a tournament team.
Not a bad way to start.