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Friday, April 12, 2024
<p>Deacon Liput swings during&nbsp;Florida's 10-4 loss to Mississippi State on April 9, 2016, at McKethan Stadium.</p>

Deacon Liput swings during Florida's 10-4 loss to Mississippi State on April 9, 2016, at McKethan Stadium.

Dalton Guthrie punches his glove and scans the field, waiting for the next pitch to be thrown, the shortstop is surrounded by a trio of fresh faces.

To his left at second base stands Deacon Liput. To his right, Jonathan India mans third base. Behind him, Nelson Maldonado is deep in left field.

Two months ago, they had never played in a collegiate baseball game. They were freshmen eagerly awaiting their chance to play under the lights in front of thousands of fans.

Now, 35 games into their first season, they’re making their presence known, proving to be the make-or-break factors for this Florida team.

"They’re definitely coming into their own," Guthrie said. "It’s not easy playing in this league and as a freshman so it’s kind of a learning process at first but they are definitely handling it well."

As the No. 3 Gators (30-5, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) begin a three-game road set with Arkansas (21-12, 4-8 SEC) tonight at 9, those three freshmen will once again be looked upon as the difference makers.

Here’s a look at what each of the freshmen skill players has done to this point in the season:

Jonathan India

After an average start to the season, India is thriving at the plate as of late.

The Coral Springs native who bats in the bottom third of the lineup paces the Gators and SEC freshmen with a .409 batting average in conference play, a mark that ranks fifth in the league overall.

He’s on a six-game hitting streak and has safely reached base in 11 of Florida’s past 12 games, recording 14 RBIs and five doubles during that stretch. His most impressive outing came in the series opener against Texas A&M, where he went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and drove in three runs.

The biggest difference with India has been his increased plate vision. Instead of hacking away at pitches near the strike zone, India is taking the time to find the right pitch.

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Deacon Liput

After seeing his batting average hover around the .350 mark for most of the season, Liput has appeared to hit the freshman wall.

Over the last 10 games, he has just seven hits in 40 at-bats (.175 batting average).

In 54 SEC plate appearances, Liput has struck out 14 times — a team-worst 25.9-percent of the time — while recording just 10 hits and drawing five walks.

But while Liput’s offensive performance has lagged, his performance on the diamond has improved each game.

The second baseman has yet to commit an error in SEC play and has just two miscues overall in the field, tied for the second-lowest mark among starting SEC middle infielders who have had at least 100 chances in the field. He’s also helped turn 14 of Florida’s 20 double plays.

Nelson Maldonado

Maldonado is the late bloomer.

Unlike India and Liput, the Tampa native and now-starting left fielder was not in the opening-night lineup.

A natural third baseman who made the transition to playing in the outfield, Maldonado spent the first 15 games of the year playing behind junior Ryan Larson, earning spot starts from time to time. The sporadic appearances left the freshman flustered.

But after coach Kevin O’Sullivan let Maldonado start the entire series against Harvard, he’s taken off.

After beginning the season with a 2-for-26 hitting clip, Maldonado has since posted a .313 batting average with three doubles, two triples and five home runs while continuing to make strides in the outfield.

His power potential is there every time he steps to the plate, evidenced by his two home runs in the series opener against Kentucky.

He’s still searching for consistency at the plate, but now that he’s consistently in the lineup, he has the opportunity to show the coaches what he has to offer.

Jordan McPherson is a sports writer. Contact him at jmcpherson@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @J_McPherson1126.

Deacon Liput swings during Florida's 10-4 loss to Mississippi State on April 9, 2016, at McKethan Stadium.

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