Hudson Randall’s first start was just like he imagined. Only wetter.
Rain pushed Randall’s debut back 30 minutes Wednesday, but once he took the mound, the freshman pitched five efficient innings, allowing no runs on only three hits as No. 5 Florida (4-0) beat UCF (3-1) 7-6.
Since signing with the Gators during his senior year at Atlanta Dunwoody High, Randall said he constantly thought about making his first start at McKethan Stadium.
“(The game) was everything I pictured,” he said. “It wasn’t the best of days, but I worked with it and did what I could.”
Randall threw first-pitch strikes against 12 of the 18 batters he faced and used his two-seam fastball to help induce nine ground-ball outs.
“He was in total control of the game,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought he was outstanding.”
O’Sullivan is keeping the Gators pitchers on a short leash early in the season, and Randall was restricted to 71 pitches. But in a combined 18 1/3 innings, the UF starters have yet to surrender an earned run.
Florida jumped on UCF starter Brian Adkins early — taking a 3-0 lead in the second — and never trailed. After hitting 1 for 9 in the opening weekend, Bryson Smith was pivotal for the Gators’ offense, going 2 for 2, drawing two walks and scoring twice.
Smith hit fifth against the Knights, a spot higher than he did while struggling. O’Sullivan said he hoped the move would give the junior college transfer more confidence.
“I don’t know if that’s the reason why he got two hits, but I’m sure it said something to him when he saw his name in the lineup hitting fifth instead of seventh or eighth,” O’Sullivan said.
Second baseman Josh Adams added two important insurance runs in the sixth when he hit a double to right-center field, driving in freshmen Nolan Fontana and Mike Zunino. Adams himself scored later in the inning on an Austin Maddox double that gave the Gators a 7-0 lead.
But seven runs weren’t enough of a cushion. UF relievers Nick Maronde and Greg Larson struggled following a rough weekend against USF in which the two allowed a total of five runs in 1/3 of an inning on Sunday.
Maronde entered in the sixth on Wednesday and gave away three earned runs in two innings. Larson relieved Maronde but only lasted 1/3 of an inning, allowing another three runs. In the young season, Maronde and Larson have ERAs of 23.14 and 16.87, respectively.
O’Sullivan said Maronde’s struggles are due to his inability to put batters away. The UCF rally began after Maronde gave up consecutive two-strike hits.
“I know he’s a little down,” O’Sullivan said, “but to be quite honest with you, I’m encouraged with the way he threw tonight. He’s just got to make better two-strike pitches.”
Junior Kevin Chapman was able to stop the bleeding for the Gators, forcing a flyout to end the eighth and shutting down the Knights in the final frame.
With two outs and the potential tying run on first, Chapman ended the game by striking out UCF left fielder Chris Duffy, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth.
“Anytime there’s a tight situation… I love getting in,” Chapman said. “It’s awesome because the adrenaline’s flowing.”
The Gators will host Siena tonight at 6:30.