Photos by Jordan McPherson
Welcome to the first installment of the Florida Gators Baseball Week In Review. Every Monday, I will take a look back at the Gators’ performances, pull out some highlight performances and give a preview for what will be ahead in the following week.
The Gators, who opened the season as the No. 3 team in the Baseball America poll, swept William & Mary in a three-game weekend series to open the 2017 season. Florida rallied from a 4-1 deficit on opening night to take a 5-4 win before posting scores of 8-1 on Saturday and 11-6 on Sunday to complete the sweep. UF outhit the Tribe 33-19 over the three games and five players post batting averages at or above .400.
Player of the Week: Freshman Austin Langworthy
Langworthy felt the jitters at the plate on opening night (0-for-3, one strikeout, one walk), but the freshman quickly turned around and played vital roles both on Saturday and Sunday. In Game 2 of the series, the two-way player made his first appearance on the mound in relief of starter Brady Singer and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while striking out two. After his a four-batter sixth inning, Langworthy stepped up to the plate and ripped a pinch-hit single to center field and then immediately recorded his first career stolen base. On Sunday, the 5-9, 190-pounder from Williston (less than a half hour from UF’s campus) went 3-for-4 at the plate and belted out his first career home run in the second inning to give UF a 3-0 lead and spark what eventually became a six-run frame. "I would not be telling you the truth if I told you I was surprised. I'm not," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I knew from Day 1 he was going to be able to hit."
Starting Pitcher of the Week: Sophomore Jackson Kowar
This one was almost no contest. Kowar was by far the most effective of Florida’s weekend starters on the mound. The 6-5 righty dazzled through 5 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and at one point retiring 13 straight batters before fatigued kicked in and he allowed three runs to come home in a span of two plate appearances. His fastball touched 96 mph and he also had effective command of both his slider and his change-up.
Relief Pitcher of the Week: Sophomore Michael Byrne
Byrne came into the 2017 season with just 13 career appearances and 16 innings of collegiate experience under his belt. But the looked like a veteran on opening night. Byrne tossed three scoreless innings to close out Friday’s game and notch his first win as a collegiate pitcher. UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Byrne will draw the start for the Gators’ first midweek game against Jacksonville on Tuesday.
1.) Ks for days: The Florida pitching staff found the strike zone, made batters miss and had no problem sending William & Mary players back to their dugout before they had a chance to run to first base. All told, the UF pitching staff tallied 37 strikeouts, two more than last year’s season-opening series. The Gators forced at least one strikeout in 21 of 27 innings last weekend.
2.) Guthrie sets the pace Sunday: Much was (rightfully) made about Florida’s three home runs during Sunday’s win. What could easily have gotten lost in the mix was the Gators’ first run of the game, a three-batter sequence in the bottom of the first inning that showcased fundamental baseball and the grittiness of UF leadoff batter Dalton Guthrie (photo, right). Guthrie, a junior and preseason All-American shortstop, opened the frame with a double to left-center field. One batter later, Guthrie tagged up on a shallow flyout from Deacon Liput and slid safely to third base. And then Guthrie trotted home almost without breaking a sweat on a sacrifice fly from Jonathan India. “That’s him,” O’Sullivan said. “His instincts are off the charts. He’s an exciting, exciting player.”
3.) Sliding home to win: Sophomore Jonathan India made a gutsy call late in Friday’s game that ultimately proved to be the difference. Standing on third base in a 4-4 ballgame in the seventh inning, India darted for home as soon as he saw the pitch fall into the dirt. India, a Coral Springs native and former standout at American Heritage, dove head first for home and was safe after the catcher dropped the ball going for the tag. Florida held the Tribe scoreless for the final two innings to win it.
A closer look: The bullpen
Heading into the year, Florida’s bullpen was its biggest unknown. Outside of senior Frank Rubio, junior Nick Horvath and Byrne, O’Sullivan had a plethora of newcomers who needed to come in and contribute right away. He needed someone, anyone, to come in and help alleviate the loss of veterans Shaun Anderson, Kirby Snead and Dane Dunning.
One weekend in, the relievers have shown they can hold their own. The group’s line over three games: Three runs over 11 2/3 innings (2.31 ERA), 10 total hits, 14 strikeouts and just two walks. All three runs came in the eighth inning Sunday off of freshman Nate Brown.
Eight pitchers made appearances out of the bullpen.
“I’m very, very optimistic about our bullpen,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just a matter of when the light goes on and kinda clicks for them.”
A few guys were clicking from the start. In addition to Langworthy and Byrne, freshman Andrew Baker was solid in his two relief appearances, striking out four and giving up just one hit in 2 1/3 innings.
The Week Ahead
The Gators have a pair of midweek games against Jacksonville on Tuesday (in Jacksonville) and Wednesday (in Gainesville) before hosting the Miami Hurricanes for a three-game weekend series. Jacksonville went 2-1 to open its season, splitting a pair of games with Morehead State on Friday (5-2 loss) and Sunday (6-0 win) and pulling out a 7-1 win against Jackson State on Saturday. The Hurricanes took their season-opening series against Rutgers with a 3-0 win on Friday and an 8-4 win on Saturday before falling apart on Sunday. The ‘Canes committed six errors in the finale and allowed the Scarlet Knights to rack up 16 hits and nine walks en route to a 17-6 Rutgers win.