After the ceremonial first pitch from 2017 College World Series MVP Alex Faedo, after unveiling the national championship banner on the left field wall, after all the pomp and circumstance of honoring a year coach Kevin O’Sullivan would like to ignore, the Gators offense was bone dry.
Through the first three innings of its season opener on Friday night, Florida managed one baserunner and while striking out four times.
Look at the wall. Standing about five feet away, wearing silky blue T-Shirts and shorts, a pair of lanky right-handers toss baseballs back and…
In the bottom of the fourth inning, however, third baseman Jonathan India stepped to the plate and stymied those worries. On an 0-2 pitch from Siena starting pitcher Brendan White, India pulled the ball toward left field and ignited a stagnant crowd. In an almost deliberate act of symbolism, the ball sailed over the championship banner and out of the ballpark.
India’s homer jump-started the Gators’ offense into gear and highlighted a 7-1 win over Siena Friday at McKethan Stadium.
O’Sullivan said his offense stalled in the initial stages after an earlier scouting report listed White’s fastball as being much slower than what it turned out to be. White’s fastest pitch clocked in at 95 mph, but O’Sullivan said he thought his ceiling was 86-89 mph.
“Credit to their starter, he’s a better pitcher than I thought,” he said.
O’Sullivan has made no bones about his recruiting process, placing a priority on pitching and defense while sometimes neglecting offensive firepower, but the fruits of his efforts over the previous three years are still paying dividends.
Junior Brady Singer started on the mound for the Gators and proved his worth throughout the evening. The right-hander peppered in a devastating changeup to compliment his 95-mph fastball throughout the evening. He finished the night with eight strikeouts and one walk in seven innings pitched.
O’Sullivan said Singer’s outing might be the toughest one he’ll have this season.
“First start of the year,” O’Sullivan said. “The anticipation, the expectations, everything that goes into it.”
Florida’s lone defensive hiccup came in the top of the sixth. With two outs and a runner on third, freshman shortstop Brady McConnell charged toward a ground ball. He lifted his glove too early, however, and the ball skipped through to left field to bring home Siena’s lone run of the game.
But even when they struggled, it seemed the Gators could do no wrong on opening night. In the bottom of the eighth, McConnell got a chance to redeem himself. After a two-out single from second baseman Blake Reese, McConnell came to the plate and launched a moonshot over the left-field wall to end Florida’s scoring on the night.
“I started to relax towards the end of the game and just try to simplify things,” McConnell said.
After McConnell gave up the unearned run with his error, Singer said he never held it against him.
“It’s hard going out there, being a freshman and starting shortstop,” Singer said. “I gave him a big hug.”
The Gators resume action Saturday afternoon at 4 with the middle match of its three-game series.