By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
Winning their season-opening series could have been easier for the No. 20/23 Florida Gators, but coming out of the weekend with a 2-1 record was nevertheless a good start for a young squad that fought to the finish over the last three days.
Florida bookended the weekend with victories over the Maryland Terrapins (1-2) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, kicking things off with a 4-0 shutout Friday on opening night in the only game of the series that was televised.
Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K) delivered a solid outing as the opening night starter. Primarily used as a reliever and midweek starter during his first two seasons with the Gators, the third-year lefty made his case for a rotation spot this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, posting a 1.71 ERA over seven starts with the Orleans Fire. His five strikeouts Friday were a career-high, and Florida’s offense did a good job making him feel comfortable with some early runs.
Freshman outfielder Ryan Larson (1/4, RBI) hit into a two-run fielder’s choice with the bases loaded in the second inning. On a flip to home, freshman designated hitter Peter Alonso (1/2, R) was ruled safe; however, the play wasn’t over as freshman center fielder Buddy Reed (0/2, R) also scored safely as he rounded the bases after noticing the toss was not secured. Junior catcher Taylor Gushue (1/3, 2 RBI) singled in a third run.
To preserve the 3-0 lead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to two experienced relievers – junior right-hander Ryan Harris (1.2 IP, BB, K) and sophomore LHP Danny Young (2 IP, K) – with Young picking up his first career save.
Game two did not go as smooth for the Gators with freshman RHP Brett Morales (3.1 IP, 5 H, 5 ER) getting roughed up in his debut. He was hit hard from the get-go and never settled down. The Terrapins did not just hit Morales though, scoring runs off four more pitchers on the evening.
It took Florida until the sixth inning, when it was already trailing 6-0, to start clawing its way back. A two-out walk for Casey Turgeon (0/4, BB, R) turned into a three-run inning on only two hits with a hit-by-pitch, wild pitch and error all occurring in the frame. UF added another run in the seventh and three more in the eight, but UM continued to score and preserve its lead, holding on for the 9-7 victory on Saturday.
O’Sullivan handed the ball to redshirt junior RHP Karsten Whitson for the rubber match, but his outing was shortened by a rough first inning. Whitson (2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) almost managed to work around a leadoff walk, but his inability to get the third out in the first allowed Maryland to mount an early 3-0 advantage.
“He was one pitch away from getting out of the first and other than that there were a lot of quality pitches he threw,” O’Sullivan said after the game.
Florida had Whitson’s back, however, scoring five runs in the first two innings. Gushue (1/3, 3 RBI) broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the second with a two-run single that capped off a four-run frame. The game’s deciding runs came when freshman designated hitter A.J. Puk (1/3, RBI, R, K) and sophomore shortstop Richie Martin (2/3, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB, K) each provided RBI doubles to extend the lead to 7-3. Martin crossed the plate on an error giving UF its eighth and final run in the 8-5 win.
Sophomore RHP Eric Hanhold (3.0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 3 K) entered in the third and earned the victory, while Harris (0.1 IP) notched the final out to grab the save in the shortened game, which ended after eight innings to appease the Terrapins’ travel curfew.
The Gators will take on three in-state opponents over the next week, hosting UCF on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and North Florida on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before heading to Coral Gables, FL for a three-game series against Miami from Friday to Sunday.