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Monday, June 24, 2024

Barco, Thompson show out in Gators’ Opening Day win

A 7-2 victory over the Liberty Flames comes after six scoreless innings from Hunter Barco

<p>Florida&#x27;s Sterlin Thompson swings against Jacksonville on March 13, 2021. Thompson hit a solo home run on Tuesday against the North Florida Ospreys en route to a 11-2 victory.</p>

Florida's Sterlin Thompson swings against Jacksonville on March 13, 2021. Thompson hit a solo home run on Tuesday against the North Florida Ospreys en route to a 11-2 victory.

Mother Nature failed to receive the memo that today was Opening Day for college baseball. 

Rain peppered the city of Gainesville throughout the day, forcing the grounds crew at Florida Ballpark to pull out the infield tarp for much of the afternoon. Dark clouds loomed, but it was too dark to see them by the first pitch. 

As Florida football head coach Billy Napier took the ceremonial first pitch, all 6,463 attendants, a program record, filled the stadium with cheers. 

Soon, they would be cheering for the team that calls Florida Ballpark home.

In the opening game of the season, Florida secured a dominant 7-2 victory on the back of a stellar six-inning outing from sophomore pitcher Hunter Barco and a pair of home runs from sophomore Sterlin Thompson.

Barco commanded the mound with the type of pitching clinic Gator fans would want from their ace; three strikeouts in just eleven pitches for the Jacksonville, Florida, native would be a sign of what’s to come. Through three innings, he recorded 45 pitches on 9 batters. Zero hits.

“Getting through the first inning is certainly the most important to kind of set the tone,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “[Barco] was awesome tonight.”

Sophomore Colby Halter led off for Florida, but promptly was sent back to the dugout on a pop fly to center. Junior Jud Fabian and Thompson were next, the former was hit by a pitch and the latter advanced on an error from Liberty first baseman Logan Matthieu. A wild pitch on the ensuing at bat for Kendrick Calilao advanced both runners; without earning a single hit, the Gators had two runners in scoring position.

A ground out for Calilao resulted in an RBI as Fabian crossed.

Sophomore Josh Rivera made his first plate appearance of the season with Thompson still waiting at second base. Rivera suffered the first strikeout of the Gators’ season, sending Barco and the fielding unit back out for the second.

After another hitless inning from Barco, junior Kris Armstrong and sophomore Mac Guscette were both sat down by Flames pitcher Joe Adametz to open the bottom of the second. 

Florida sophomore Wyatt Langford had other plans. 

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On his second pitch of the season, the Trenton, Florida, native rocketed a shot to deep left. With one crack of the bat Florida’s lead doubled. 

Halter opened the third with a single; Fabian looked to bring him all the way home with a deep shot to center field, but Flames outfielder Derek Orndorff made a leaping snatch to save the play and keep Halter at first. The Jacksonville native still made it to the top of the diamond, though, when Calilao forced a walk and gave Rivera his second opportunity of the night to bring home a run. Once again, Rivera struck out, and Barco returned to the mound.

Another quick inning from Barco ensued, upping his strikeout count to eight, and putting the Gators right back out to bat. 

A strikeout from Armstrong and a pop-out from Guscette put Langford in a two-out situation once again. He didn’t blast another home run, but still got on base with a single. A strikeout for freshman Deric Fabian, brother of Jud, ended the frame and Florida had back-to-back scoreless innings.

In the top of the fifth, Barco notched his ninth and tenth strikeouts of the evening — his tenth tying a career high. The Gators’ offense was stalling out as the game progressed, but the man on the mound didn’t seem to notice. 

Halter and Jud opened the bottom of the fifth with two outs, but Thompson kicked Florida out of its’ offensive rut with a shot to deep center. Rebounding off the batters’ eye and back onto the field, he had his first home run of the year. 

Barco finally gave up his first walk and hit on back-to-back at bats to open the sixth inning, as O’Sullivan sent freshmen Nick Ficarrotta and Philip Abner to warm up in the bullpen. The sophomore still finished out the inning, keeping the scoreboard clean and recording a strikeout to end the inning that set a new career high. 

In an 88-pitch night, Barco delivered 59 strikes and 11 strikeouts.

“I just had to go out there and continue to do my job,” Barco said.

After a hitless bottom of the sixth, Ficarrotta made his first appearance under the orange and blue cap in the top of the seventh. He opened his career with a strikeout.

Langford gave Ficarrotta his second out of the inning with a sliding catch in foul territory. A ground out fielded by Halter closed the inning.

With an out on the board, Deric recorded his first career hit in the bottom of the seventh. Halter walked to first, giving Jud a chance to bring home his brother from second base. He would walk, transferring the job to Thompson with the bases juiced.

In a coffin-closing play, Thompson sent his grand-slam shot nearly over the batters’ eye. He finished the game with five RBIs.

“It feels amazing,” Thompson said. “It’s good to change the game. I knew when I stepped on the plate that I was gonna do some damage.”

Ficarrotta returned to the mound in the eighth, giving up the first run of the night on a one-out homer from Orndorff. Ficarrotta hit the next Liberty batter, Jake Lazzaro, and followed that with a hit. One wild pitch later, and the Flames had two runners in scoring position with one out. After Gray Betts sent an RBI single into center field, O’Sullivan made the call to bring in Abner to replace Ficarrotta.

The decision paid off; Abner recorded his first career strikeout and closed the inning with a pop out to center field. In the top of the ninth, things did not fare as well for the freshman. After letting the bases become loaded, O’Sullivan opted to finish the game with redshirt freshman pitcher Ryan Slater.

In a quick two-out appearance, Slater closed the inning and the game. Florida had its tally in the “W” column.

“I feel like our lineup is just one through nine,” Thompson said. “It’s as deep as we can get.”

The Gators return Saturday afternoon for the second game of a three-game series with the Flames. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m, while sophomore pitcher Timmy Manning will earn his first start of the season.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion

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Carson Cashion

Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.

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