Key early play: Florida catcher Brady Smith is about to put the tag on Long Beach runner Brooks Stotler in a key first inning play.

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Florida Digs Down On Dirtbags

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Well whaddya’ gonna do? 

Opening day for me was a bit of a quandary as Aaron and Kendall both decided to call first dibs and head to the Valley of the Sun to cover the numerous tasty baseball matchups going on in the Phoenix area. And the forecast called for, yes, actual rain in Los Angeles. So I wasn’t gonna sit at home and wait out a rainy day. I had to figure out something intriguing for opening weekend somewhere else. The schedule was a wee-bit light everywhere else around the country (damn schedule makers), so I decided to head where there was no rain in the forecast; the Sunshine State. 

It was a beautiful opening night at McKethan Stadium as 4,851 fans packed the joint. Well done.

Well, the *other* Sunshine State that is. The one where it’s NOT raining. My first target was to get to Gainesville and see what Dr. Frankenstein (otherwise known as that mad scientist Kevin O’Sullivan) had cooked up for his Florida Gators. Losing three first-round draftees off the 2018 team means a certain drop from contention for 2019, right? 

Think again. 

I have to admit, one of the reasons coach O’Sullivan has done such a good job over the years is the fact that nobody seems to take on more losses and yet still come back with Omaha-contending teams year after year. I have my hunch that this year will be no different. Sure it’s odd that three freshman started the opener for the Orange and Blue, and three of the pitchers used tonight were also greenhorns, but I’m telling you they’re back again.

They had a tussle tonight, no doubt. The Dirtbags are a notoriously plucky bunch that always seem to play better than their talent level. That was on display again here tonight. But in the end, the Gators were able to labor through it all for a hard-fought win to open the 2019 season. Don’t let the 8-2 final dissuade you, this one was more of a struggle. But again, the youth brigade of the Gators prevails. 

How was your opening day? 

Before we get to what I saw in Gainesville, lets take a quick snapshot of what happened around the country.

FIVE QUICK HITS
What caught my eye from the day in college baseball

1- Mike Martin’s Farewell Tour Off To Strong Start
Okay sure, the Maine Black Bears have probably been throwing more snow balls than baseball’s so far this preseason, but the Seminoles got a combined no-hitter from Drew Parrish, Conor Grady and Chase Haney in an 11-0 rout. It was the 10th no-hitter in Seminoles history. “Eleven” is now 12 wins away from 2,000 in his career. 

“This was so much fun. It’s very special. The closest we have come to a no-hitter on Opening Day was us getting one-hit.”

By the way, this is really good stuff here… 

2- LSU’s Bash Brothers
The Tigers better feel fortunate that Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera were wearing their big boy pants today because the LSU pitching wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Both Duplantis, the No. 3 hitter, and Cabrera, the No. 4 hitter, went yard twice today and racked up 11 RBI between them as the Tigers outlasted UL-Monroe 12-7. And good thing they were there because starting pitcher Zack Hess was getting rocked a bit early on, lasting just 3.2 innings and giving up five runs. The game was tied at seven heading into the bottom of the eighth when Duplantis rocketed a grand slam to the right field aluminum bleachers to put the game out of reach.

3- Did you see what Oregon did at Texas Tech?
Best win of the day, hands down, has to belong to the Oregon Ducks. In the first-ever meeting between the two teams the Ducks tied a school record for stolen bases with nine thefts to help propel the Green and Gold to a 9-4 win in Lubbock. The last time the Ducks stole nine bases was against Linfield College in 1949. Four players tied for a game-high with two stolen bases and five Duck pitchers combined to stymie the Red Raiders potent offense. Aaron Zavala and Tanner Smith both gathered three hits and two RBI to pace the offense. Big win for a team that needs a lot of those this season. 

By the way, the second-best Win of the Day? Gotta go with UConn taking down Louisville 3-2. And they did so without their ace Mason Feole, who is sitting out the first two weeks of the season to give his arm some rest. Bully of a win for the snowbirding Huskies over the preseason favorites in the ACC. 

4- Manoah overboard
What a day for West Virginia ace Alek Manoah. The All-American righty pitched six innings against Kennesaw State and notched a career-high 13 strikeouts, while giving up just two hits and one earned run. That 13-K total nearly doubled his previous high of seven punch outs. And again, it came in just six innings of work. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the offense didn’t pick him up as the Owls pulled off a 5-3 win

5- Oh the pain. 
The Ouch List already has a handful of candidates after today. Purdue took a 6-4 lead into the eighth inning but proceeded to give up single runs in the 8th, 9th and 10th inning to drop a painful 6-5 loss at Southern Miss. 

You think that’s bad? Try being New Mexico. The Lobos led 4-0 in the seventh and got two out on the Beavers, but an error led to floodgates and the Beavers pulled within 4-3 on three unearned runs. Then, in the ninth inning with the Lobos leading by 5-3, OSU got a bases-loaded, two-run single from Greg Fuchs to win the game 6-5 in jog-off fashion. 

Monmouth played toe-to-toe with Penn State at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, North Carolina, taking a 0-0 score into the ninth inning. But Penn State scored the game’s lone run in bottom of the ninth inning on a bases-loaded plunking. 1-0, Nittany Lions win. A hit-by-pitch, an error and a walk loaded the bases for the Lions in the ninth.

Ouch.

And One To Grow On…
Speaking of growing, did you see the attendance at the first game Grand Canyon University played at their rebuilt GCU Stadium (Brazell Field)? Four-thousand five-hundred sixty-two fans jammed into that bad boy. Holy cow! Well done Antelope fans, well done. By the way, GCU used that atmosphere to bully the hell out of Wichita State in a 9-1 blowout. Yeesh. 

WHAT I SAW AT McKETHEN STADIUM
Don’t let the linescore fool ya’, this game was closer than the score indicates. As you might expect both teams made a ton of mistakes but the homestanding Gators were able to put a few at-bats together and post some early runs, which ended up being the difference in the game. 

The Florida Gators came away with a hard-fought opening night win over Long Beach State.

LINESCORE:
Beach – 000 200 000 – 2  4  1
Gators – 400 000 40x – 8 10  2

PITCHING
WP: Jordan Butler, 1-0
LP: Adam Seminaris, 0-1
Save: None

TOP HITTERS.
Dirtbags: 
– Brooks Stotler, 2-for-3

Gators: 
– Wil Dalton, 2-for-5, 2RBI
– Nelson Maldonado, 2-for-3
– Brady Smith, 1-for-3, 2RBI

RECORDS:
Long Beach – 0-1
Florida – 1-0 

HOW IT WENT DOWN: 
Man, if only the Dirtbags could play that first inning over again. 

The Gators came out with an aggressive mindset at the plate. After leadoff hitter Austin Langworthy harmlessly bounced out to LB pitcher, Brady McConnell slapped a single, Nelson Maldonado walked, both Gators stole a base, then Wil Dalton cranked a two-run single to centerfield, putting the Gators up 2-0. 

But before Dalton’s big hit, McConnell was actually first called ‘out’ on the steal attempt. But the umpires went underneath McKethan Stadium’s bowels to review the play and it showed he was actually safe; a call reversal. 

A walk by freshman Kendrick Calilao was followed by another two-run knock, this time from seven-hole hitter Brady Smith. Just like that, 4-0 Gators. 

But from there, things got a little weird. Long Beach just hung around and hung around in typical Dirtbag style, putting pressure on the Gators and making some breaks happen. In the top of the fourth inning, after Dyson was pulled due to two walks in the frame, sophomore lefty Jordan Butler came on to give up a double-steal, then the Gators allowed a pair of runs on a passed ball and a wild pitch. Suddenly the game was back within reach again at 4-2. 

Long Beach starter Adam Seminaris settled in just fine, holding the Gator bats scoreless from the second to the sixth inning. He was eventually pulled with one out in the sixth, replaced by strapping freshman right-hander Jonathan Carlos.

Dirtbag starter Adam Seminaris did an good job of keeping Long Beach in the game after a rough first inning.

 

The game inched along. And I mean REALLY inched along despite the low score. This felt like one of those painful Omaha games where the pace is super-slow and deliberate. Only thing missing was the 120º heat index we are lucky to get at TD Ameritrade. Yuck. 

The Gators were finally able to lock down the W with a four-run seventh inning. But all four runs were scored in ignominious fashion as a balk with a runner on third made it 5-2 and then a bases-loaded, two-out pop-fly by freshman Jud Fabian was misjudged by Long Beach left fielder Calvin Estrada and dropped to the ground. All three baserunners scored and Fabian was awarded a double, his second of the game. Double. Error. Whatever you want to rule it, the Gators made it 8-2 on that flub, and the game was done. 

NOTES 
– Un-Dyson-like
Gator starter Tyler Dyson is expected to continue the program’s tradition of being a high-round golden arm, but it didn’t look like it tonight. Despite not giving up an earned run and giving up just two hits, the Gator ace only lasted 3.1 innings and dealt with Dirtbag runners in scoring position in each of the first three frames. In fact, of his four walks on the night two of them were four-pitch walks that led off the first and third innings. Dyson was able to get a key defensive stop and a strikeout to end the threats.

Tyler Dyson wasn’t at the top of his game tonight, going just 3.1 innings and walking four.

– The Other Starter
One of the reasons why I decided to choose to come to this series for the Friday game was because the Dirtbags were going to counter with Zac Baayoun, who is also expected to be an MLB draftee this June. But instead Long Beach head coach Troy Buckley started Adam Seminaris, who went 1-7, 4.84 last year as a mid-week starter and spot reliever. When I asked Coach Buck about the decision to sit his ace till Saturday, he said, “Believe me there is no gamesmanship exhibited here, Zac simply broke a team rule and his punishment was not starting the season opener. Nothing more than that.” 

In the end, Seminaris pitched pretty well. Take away the opening frame and the sophomore lefty held the Gators scoreless. He also struck out seven Gator batters and did not give up a walk outside of that fateful first frame. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said afterward, “You have to really credit their pitcher. He stuck to it and ended up being real effective against us. He gave them a chance to keep the game close.” 

– Marathon Opener.
Tonight’s game went a teeth-gnashing four hours long. Credit all the walks, hit batsmen, pitching changes and the fact that a west coast team was involved. But c’mon, four hours?! That’s so painful. As I tweeted out earlier it felt like the glacial pace of a game in Omaha in June. The only thing missing was the 120º heat index. Gah!

COACH SPEAK
Caught up with both coaches after the game. 

Long Beach State’s Troy Buckley:
“As bad as the linescore looks, it’s actually not a bad night. I thought our guys competed well for the most part. Both teams gave up a lot of free opportunities but they put together back-to-back-to-back at-bats and we didn’t. That was the difference. There were some good signs from some guys are our team that we thought, ‘Okay, they did a good job here’ but they have to respect the fact of how hard it is to win especially against an SEC team on the road.” 

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan:
“It was a very strange game, we dropped some pop-ups, had some miscommunications between the pitcher and catcher, had nine walks and two hit batters. It was kind of uncharacteristic of us, but I wish there was something you could say to the players before the first game to let them know that the unexpected is going to be expected. But obviously we’ll get better as time goes on with so many new faces. On most nights if you play like this you’re going to be on the losing end.” 

“I don’t wanna judge on where we are at after one game. But we have a lot of new faces so there is going to be a learning curve. I think we’ll be fine but we know this will be a lesson for them. We just hope our guys learn from the mistakes that we make.” 

PICS
A few more images from tonight’s game…

The Gators appeared to come out of the pregame huddle loose and ready to play.

 

… then again, so did Long Beach State. So there you go.

 

… and so did the coaches and umpires in their pregame meeting. So it was loose feelings all the way around tonight in Gainesville.

 

Key play in the first inning. Brady McConnell was originally called out by the tag of Dirtbag third baseman Tanner Carlson. But a video review reversed the call, leading to a pair of Gator runs a batter later. If this game were played in Long Beach with no SEC Network cameras, it would’ve been a different outcome.

 

Reptilian Love.

Brady Smith and Kris Armstrong give it the “bro handshake” after putting down the Dirtbags for good.

UP NEXT
Heading to Lakeland, Florida for tomorrow’s second game between UConn and Louisville. Next time to see the Gators? Easter weekend when they venture to LSU for a three-game series. As for the Dirtbags, well, they are a 25 minute motorcycle ride down the 405 freeway in SmogLand so I am sure I’ll see them again soon.

G’night.

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