GAINESVILLE — Alex Faedo — Florida's 2017 ace, College World Series MVP and first-round MLB Draft pick — was back on the McKethan Stadium mound on Friday. Although he never actually made it to the rubber.
The flame-throwing righthander instead wore jeans and a 2017 title T-Shirt as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Florida's season-opening game against Siena. In a symbolic moment, Brady Singer trotted out of the dugout moments later to take Faedo's Friday night spot on that mound and usher in a new season of Florida baseball.
"He gave me a high five and told me good luck," Singer said of Faedo. He also noted that they rarely talked to each other before starts. Neither wanted to break the other's concentration.
Clearly the high five and pair of words didn't have any negative effect on Singer, as he dominated Siena in seven innings. The junior righthander struck out eight, walked one and allowed no earned runs in Florida's 7-1 opening-night win.
And perhaps most impressively, Singer offered 24 first-pitch strikes to the 24 hitters he faced.
"That's the one thing I wanted to do," Singer said, "was go out there and throw strikes."
Coach Kevin O'Sullivan noted that with first-game jitters and his first Friday night start, the game could be one of Singer's most difficult of the season. He compared him to Faedo, who in last year's season opener against William and Mary allowed four earned runs in four and 2/3 innings.
Singer, obviously, didn't have similar issues.
"He was sharp," O'Sullivan said.
Freshman lefty Jordan Butler completed the two-hitter for Florida, tossing two scoreless innings with four strikeouts to end the game.
"You could just see the competitive spirit he has," O'Sullivan said of Butler, who will also hit this season.
Four Florida players — Nelson Maldonado, JJ Schwarz, Blake Reese and Nick Horvath — had two hits on the night, while five players notched RBIs. Among them were newcomers Brady McConnell and Wil Dalton.
McConnell had a rough go in his first college game, striking out on his first three at-bats. He also committed a costly error that gave Siena its only run of the game.
But after a hug from Singer following the error and a talk with O'Sullivan following the string of strikeouts, he smashed a home run to give the Gators their final two runs of the game.
"I knew it was gone," he said of his arching rainbow shot. Junior third baseman Jonathan India also hit a home run — a solo shot in the fourth inning — that cleared the left-field bleachers and gave the Gators their first run of 2018.
As for Dalton, he roped a ball to left field on his third at-bat of the game to claim his first hit and RBI at UF. The sophomore transferred from junior college and started in right field.
"I started to relax toward the end of the game and simplify things," he said.
The Gators continue their three-game weekend homestand against Siena on Saturday afternoon at 4, with Singer's roommate Jackson Kowar scheduled to start for Florida. O'Sullivan tried to temper expectations for that game and the rest of the season, though he did so with a smile.
"We're not gonna go 56-0," he joked. "I can promise you that."