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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Gators baseball falls to St. John’s in season-opener

Florida’s defeat tallies its first season-opening loss since 2013

Florida head baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan exits a mound visit in the baseball team's loss to the St. John's Red Storm on Friday, February 16, 2024.
Florida head baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan exits a mound visit in the baseball team's loss to the St. John's Red Storm on Friday, February 16, 2024.

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan trusts sophomore left-hander Cade Fisher.

He made that clear when he named Fisher as Florida’s Opening Day starter during a press conference on Tuesday.

“We talked about it in the fall,” O’Sullivan said. “I was frank and honest with him like, ‘Hey man, if you’re gonna be a Friday starter, you’ve gotta be different, you’ve gotta carry yourself different, your work ethic has got to be different. You gotta be a leader’… And he answered the bell, for sure.”

Fisher worked primarily from the bullpen his freshman year and was called upon in several do-or-die scenarios during the Gators’ 2023 College World Series run. When Florida was on the brink of elimination in the NCAA Regional round, O’Sullivan turned toward the southpaw to start against Texas Tech. Fisher pitched seven innings of one-run baseball to keep the Gators’ season alive.

The stakes weren’t nearly as high on opening night, but the nerves appeared to plague the sophomore.

Fisher pitched just two innings and surrendered six runs on six hits and two walks.

“I felt good, I felt confident today,” he said. “It just kinda didn’t go my way.”

The No. 2 Florida Gators (0-1) lost to the St. John’s Red Storm (1-0) 9-5 Friday night at Condron Family Ballpark. It marked Florida’s first season-opening loss since 2013, when Duke defeated UF 4-3.

“The crowd was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said. “But when you fall behind that much that early, it amplifies the pressure that you put on yourself.”

In front of a record opening-night crowd of 7,898 fans, St. John’s quickly built itself a seven-run lead. Florida’s offense stood uncharacteristically dormant. The bats finally got clicking in the bottom of the third inning.

Florida senior third baseman Dale Thomas led off the inning with a double to the left field gap. Thomas turned toward his teammates as they cleared the dugout in celebration, seemingly unaffected by the seven-run deficit. The top of the order came up one batter later and produced three runs. 

Florida redshirt sophomore outfielder Michael Robertson headlined the spurt of offense with an RBI single. Sophomores Cade Kurland and Luke Heyman each drove in a run, and the Red Storm’s lead dwindled to four. 

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The Gators chipped away at the lead as junior right-hander Ryan Slater began to settle in. 

Slater has always been O’Sullivan’s primary reliever to eat up innings when things go south, and he did exactly that. Slater struck out four batters in 3.1 innings and surrendered just one run.

Meanwhile, Florida’s offense scored a run in the fourth and fifth inning. Gators shortstop Colby Shelton launched his first career home run with Florida over the right field wall. Shelton nearly had another home run in the eighth inning that bounced off the wall in left-center field for a double. 

St. John’s lead became insurmountable when Red Storm junior Jackson Tucker led off the eighth inning with a towering home run to left field. Slater allowed another runner on base, which caused O’Sullivan to look deeper into his bullpen.

That proved costly.

Redshirt junior right-hander Blake Purnell spent most of his outing on the mound warming up. He allowed sophomore Jimmy Keenan to square up on his first pitch for a double, and O’Sullivan immediately elected to pull Purnell for freshman righty Robert Satin. 

Satin’s outing only lasted a couple of pitches longer. 

The freshman reliever surrendered a four-pitch walk, and again, O’Sullivan trotted out to the mound. Freshman right-handed reliever Alex Philpott came in and struck out his first batter. With the bases loaded, Philpott walked in a run. St. John’s led 9-5, and the freshman secured the final out with another strikeout.

Florida’s offense couldn’t build momentum in the final two innings despite three separate players getting on base. Heyman grounded out for the last out of the contest.

“We feel good about Liam [Peterson] going out there tomorrow,” said O’Sullivan.

Freshman righty Liam Peterson will start Game 2 of opening weekend at 10 a.m. Saturday at Condron Family Ballpark. The game was originally scheduled for 4 p.m. and was moved due to inclement weather. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.

Contact Luke Adragna at Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.

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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.

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