Shortstop Josh Rivera slowly made his way to the plate in the bottom of the sixth for his third career at-bat, bobbing his head to his walk-up song: Lil Baby’s “Sum 2 Prove.”
The IMG Academy product struck out twice earlier in the game, but he didn’t appear rattled when he came into the box to face Marshall right-hander Wade Martin.
Rivera settled into his stance, waited for the pitch, and when it finally came, he sent it over the left-field wall for his first collegiate home run to give Florida a three-run lead.
The freshman proved to himself, his teammates and the 4,441 fans at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium that he belonged on one of the nation’s top teams, as No. 4 Florida ran away with a 9-2 victory over Marshall in the season opener Friday night.
“He’s got a chance to follow in the same footsteps as some of the other guys we’ve had play that position over the years,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, referring to Rivera after the game. “It means a lot when (freshmen) finally get their first hit. As minimal as it may seem...to get that first hit out of the way just takes a little bit of that pressure off.”
UF (1-0) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard to start the 2020 campaign.
Center fielder Jud Fabian, who was voted onto the Preseason All-SEC Second Team earlier in the week, singled to the shortstop in Florida’s first at-bat.
Two batters later, first baseman/outfielder Kendrick Calilao brought Fabian home thanks to an RBI single to center field.
After a hitless second inning from both teams, the Gators and the Thundering Herd registered one run apiece in the third to make it 2-1 in UF’s favor.
The Gators used two consecutive RBIs in the fourth inning from catcher Cal Greenfield and Fabian to extend its lead to three.
Greenfield’s double to left-center field allowed catcher/infielder Nathan Hickey to cross home plate. Hickey, a freshman out of Jacksonville, had two runs in his first career game to lead all Florida batters.
Marshall’s (0-1) next run didn’t come until the top of the fifth on an error from UF right-hander Tommy Mace.
The junior took a peak at second base and saw Marshall infielder Geordon Blanton, who had every intention of stealing third, but Mace turned his attention toward the plate to face the next batter.
Instead of lining up his pitch, however, Mace pivoted on his heel and launched an errant throw that sailed over second baseman Cory Acton, allowing Blanton to cut his team’s deficit to 4-2.
“(O’Sullivan) coming out and talking to me helped me a lot,” Mace said. “I walked around the mound just to take a deep breath. I was a little upset just because that’s my fault.”
Mace bounced back from his fifth-inning blunder to earn his first win of the season after facing 27 batters in six innings pitched. He allowed eight hits, two earned runs and struck out six batters in his first appearance of the season.
Florida went on to score five more runs the rest of the game, which included a three-run homer from infielder Kris Armstrong in the bottom of the seventh.
The Gators will be back on the diamond Saturday afternoon for the second game of its opening series with Marshall, this time with right-hander Jack Leftwich on the mound.
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