By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (4-0) has used power hitting and strong, consistent pitching to open the 2015 campaign with a bang, sweeping the Rhode Island Rams by a combined score of 37-5 over the weekend and earning a dominant 13-3 victory over the USF Bulls on Wednesday.
Florida’s opening-weekend sweep and four-game season-opening winning streak are firsts for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan since 2011.
The season began for Florida with a 9-1 win Friday night. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Logan Shore (5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 K), the 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year, picked up where he left off by tossing five scoreless innings and collecting the win. Junior left fielder Harrison Bader (2/4, HR, 3 RBI, R) led the way with a two-run homer and RBI single, and freshman catcher Mike Rivera (0/2, RBI, R) drove in a run and crossed the plate in his first collegiate game.
Game two saw the Gators offense erupt for 17 hits, including four three-run dingers, in a 22-3 series-clinching win over the Eagles. It was Bader (3/4, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, BB) leading the way once again, but he was joined by freshman catcher JJ Schwarz (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R), who debuted in grand fashion with a three-run bomb. Sophomore RHP Dane Dunning (4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K, 2 WP) notched the win.
UF completed its sweep of URI with a 6-1 victory as Bader (2/4, 2 RBI), the first SEC Player of the Week for 2015, drove in two runs; he finished the series 7/12 with three homers, 11 RBI and five runs scored. On the mound, sophomore left-hander A.J. Puk (4.2 IP, 6 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K) was far from dominant, but he managed to stay out of trouble and get put the relievers in a good situation to close out the game.
A native of Tampa, Florida, sophomore RHP Brett Morales saw his Tuesday start against Florida A&M pushed back to Wednesday, allowing him to take the mound in a homecoming at USF instead. Morales (6.0 IP, 7 K) delivered with a perfect performance in his limited outing, which ended early due to pitch count (70). “It’s a long season, got to stay healthy, so I respect the decision,” he told the Tampa Bay Times after the game.
The Gators took an early 6-0 lead behind Morales but saw their advantage cut moments after being pulled. The Bulls rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Florida quickly squashed any chance of a USF comeback by answering with a seven-run eighth inning. Schwarz (3/5, HR, 5 RBI, R), who smacked a homer in the fifth and hit a three-run triple in the eighth, led the way for UF’s offense. Bader (2/3, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) and OF Buddy Reed (3/6, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 SB) lent a helping hand.
Florida will host No. 8 Miami (3-1) over the weekend in Gainesville, Florida, with Saturday night’s game airing live nationally on the SEC Network at 7:30 p.m. all three games will be available on WatchESPN.com. Shore, Puk and Dunning will make up the Gators’ rotation Friday-Sunday.