Over the weekend, the Florida Gators advanced from the Gainesville Regional, but it wasn’t in dominant fashion, especially in the final two games.
UF played Florida Atlantic, and the Owls pushed the Gators to the wire, winning the first game to force a winner-take-all rematch.
Florida pulled out a 5-2 win with the help of SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India and powerful right fielder Wil Dalton.
When it was all said and done though, a new name was heralded by Gator fans: Jonah Girand.
The former backup catcher was an unlikely hero as he mashed three home runs on the weekend, all at timely instances.
Against Columbia, Girand uncorked a ball way past the left-field fence to ice the win for UF.
In a grind-it-out game against Jacksonville, he put another ball out to left field to lift the Gators to a 3-2 win and swung momentum in his team's favor.
His final homer against FAU occurred at a time when the Gators needed a boost. Down 2-1 with the season on the line, Girand hit a two-run bomb that gave his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
His homer catalyzed Florida's effort and was followed the very next inning by back-to-back home runs from India and Dalton.
Girand’s performance earned him the Gainesville Regional MVP award decided by the media members who attended the weekend.
The unlikely hero was thrust into a starting role when normal catcher/first baseman JJ Schwarz was held out with a broken hand.
Girand's journey to UF wasn’t the one that most college baseball players take.
After high school, he attended Santa Fe for a year. Following that stint, he returned home to Orlando and took a year off and landed a job in retail.
“I just kind of worked and trained for an entire year to try and get better,” Girand said. “The year off was definitely a wake-up call to see how much I really wanted it.”
He attended Seminole State College in Sanford, Florida, and returned to baseball. He sent out tapes of himself playing and waited for coaches to contact him. Then, one did - Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan.
“I saw him in high school and in summer ball, but didn’t see him at Santa Fe,” O’Sullivan said. “Kind of a weird story...he just reached out and I knew we were gonna lose Mikey (Rivera) and Kolo (Mark Kolozsvary).”
O’Sullivan also mentioned that Girand attended UF entirely on his own and wasn’t even sure if he would earn a spot until after the 2017 MLB Draft.
“I thought he could be a good bullpen catcher,” O’Sullivan said. “He wasn’t recruited by anybody. We had to use a walk-on spot for him.”
Teammates have noticed Girand’s work ethic over the entire season.
“It’s awesome,” India said of Girand’s breakout. “I think he was one of our best hitters in the fall. He works at it. He works at his craft and it’s paying off for him.”
Girand has warranted consideration to stay in the lineup and to move Schwarz over to first base should the senior be ready for the Gainesville Super Regional.
“I just don’t know with his hand how (Schwarz’s) going to feel behind the plate,” O’Sullivan said. “If he can only hit until we get to Omaha, of course that’s what he’s going to do.”
For the time being though, Girand has caught his coach’s attention.
“He’s (Girand) playing the game with excitement and he’s not thinking about anything besides helping his team win,” O’Sullivan said.
You can follow Chris O'Brien on Twitter @THEChrisOB and contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.