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Preview: Gator Baseball Opens Season Against William & Mary

The day has come for all the Gator fans that have missed the smell of fresh-cooked hot dogs, and weekends spent at the Mac: it’s baseball season. The Florida Gators will debut the 2017 season in tfront of a home crowd at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium with a series against William & Mary, starting Friday, February 17th.

Leading up to the first pitch, there has been a lot of hype around the No. 2 ranked Gators, and rightfully so. UF is returning some of the top pitching in the country backed by a versatile defense, paired with consistent contributors at the plate. All of this lead by a veterans on the roster that have experienced the highest level of competition at the College World Series.

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Dominance From The Hill

Junior right-hander Alex Faedo will be Friday-night guy for the Gators this season after spending the last two years as third in the rotation, but he has earned his spot in the limelight. Last season, he led the team in wins (13) and strikeouts (133). He was voted first-team preseason All-SEC by the leagues’ coaches. Although he missed fall practice due to arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees, he is ready for his return and is expected to be one of the top picks of the 2017 MLB Draft.

One of last season’s bullpen pitchers will be making his way to the mound to be the Saturday starter this season. Sophomore righty Brady Singer brings a fastball that can reach 98 mph and a strong ability to locate his pitches. As a freshman, he dealt with the learning curve of pitching against the toughest hitters in the country but faired well, making 23 appearances for the Gators including 1 start. He pitched to a 2-2 record with an ERA of 4.95. He didn’t commit a single error on in the field and was one of three Gator pitchers to allow 0 home runs on the year.

To close out the series on Sunday, the Gators will go to sophomore RHP Jackson Kowar. Kowar is back and healthy after missing the back half of last season due to a collapsed lung. He started his freshman season strong with 12 appearances(six starts), a 3.37 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 10 walks. He has a 91-94 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup in his repertoire to keep batters off balance.

Returning Hungry

Something that will be irreplaceable on the Gator roster this season is experience. UF returns 16 players, including six starters, from last year’s College World Series team.

Jun 19, 2016; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators shortstop Dalton Guthrie yells after picking off Coastal Carolina Chanticleers runner G.K. Young in the 2016 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Coastal Carolina won 2-1. Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve been to the big show and know what it takes to get there. The senior veterans of that group include right-handed pitcher Frank Rubio and right fielder Ryan Larson. Rubio has spent all four years of his college career as a Gator, last season taking on the role of relief pitcher.  The case is the same for Larson, who appeared in 59 games for the Gators last season (20 starts).

Some other key presences on the field are junior Dalton Guthrie. The shortstop returns a team-high batting average from last year hitting .305. He added 14 doubles, a homer and 22 RBI. Junior catcher Mike Rivera is another leader for the Gators. He does so by example with his defense behind the plate (he had only three errors last season) and his clutch hitting. There’s a hole in the Gators’ roster left by first baseman Pete Alonso, which all of the players agreed is an irreplaceable force on the team. But junior JJ Schwarz has the potential to not only fill the position at first base but also in the line up as the DH.  Schwarz tied the team lead of 60 RBIs with Alonso.

Of all of the positional starters, they return seven, each with the ability to shift to multiple positions. The sophomore class now has a year under their belt and are prepared to build off of last season. Expected third baseman Jonathan India has the second-best returning average at .303 and  second baseman Deacon Liput was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. In the outfield, centerfielder Blake Reese has the potential to fill the shoes of Buddy Reed and right fielder Nelson Maldonado was named to the NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tournament team.

Taking On The Tribe

The William & Mary Tribe have been a dominant force in the Colonial Athletic Association in recent years. They finished first or second in the league in three of the last four seasons. Last season was a their most notable year, winning the first regular season regular season title in school history and a CAA Tournament Championship.

They went on to the Charlottesville Regional and made it to the Regional Final where they fell to East Carolina. Before being knocked out they did snag a win over the defending national champion Virginia. Now, the Tribe roster is filled with veterans. They return their entire weekend rotation this season, which includes seniors Nick Brown and Daniel Power and sophomore Bodie Sheehan. The Green and Gold also return six of the eight positional starters as well.

Florida leads the all-time series 5-0 over William & Mary. The last meeting between the Gators and Tribe was in 2012, when UF swept three games from William & Mary in Gainesville.

Series game times for this weekend are: Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m.

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