Florida pitcher Cade Fisher [AP Photo/John Peterson]

Florida Baseball Takes First Game Against Columbia

The Florida Gators baseball team defeated the visiting Columbia Lions 14-6 Friday.

Cade Fisher delivered a tremendous bounce-back start, the offense exploded for 10 runs in the first inning, but an unfortunate at-bat by Cade Kurland could leave the Gators (3-1) without their starting second baseman.

Bounce Back Cade

One week before Friday’s game, Fisher posted just two innings while giving up five hits, two walks and five earned runs in the loss to St. John’s. Fisher did not let last week’s game lower his confidence.

On Friday, Fisher pitched five innings and struck out a career-best 10 batters. He allowed five hits and two runs. Fisher’s lone blemish was a home run by Anton Lazits, who finished with two home runs and four RBI on the night.

Fisher struck out half of the batters he faced and whiffed two batters in every inning he pitched.

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Outside of Cade Fisher, Fisher Jameson and Blake Purnell pitched a combined 1.1 innings and gave up four runs in the middle innings. But veteran reliever Ryan Slater slowed down the Lions in the later half of the seventh and the eighth inning.

In the 1.2 innings Slater pitched, he had four strikeouts, with 20 of his 24 pitches going for strikes. But to Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Slater should not have been used in a game where the Gators had a 10-run lead.

“In the middle innings, we just gotta get better,” O’Sullivan said. “It is just that simple, we shouldn’t have to use Slater in a game like this.”

While the Gator did use Ryan Slater late in the game, they did not need to use preseason All-American reliever Brandon Neely. Instead, O’Sullivan elected to use freshman Reilly Witmer.

Witmer tossed one inning of scoreless ball in his first collegiate experience. O’Sullivan was pleased by his freshman pitcher and expects to see more freshmen play in the next couple of days.

“Witmer has been throwing the ball good, he greatly improved since the fall,” O’Sullivan said. “Really good to get him out there for the first time. We gotta get [Luke] McNeillie out there too, there is a good chance you see him out there tomorrow at some point.”

Early Offensive firepower

The Gators exploded for 23 runs in their two-game series earlier in the week against North Florida. It did not take long for the Gators to take the lead against Columbia.

Just one hitter was unable to reach base safely on the first run through the lineup. After a Tyler Shelnut single that brought in Cade Kurland, Ty Evans was inches away from a three-run home run, but settled for a two-run triple. The first triple by a Gator this season.

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Coming into Friday’s contest, Virginia Tech transfer catcher Brody Dooney was 0-7 at the plate in his limited time as a Gator. But his dry spell ended quickly as he belted a missile to the batter’s eye for his first hit and home run for the Gators, jumping their lead to seven.

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A Luke Hayman double and Colby Shelton sac fly made it a double-digit lead for the Gators entering the second inning.

Outside of the first, the Gators could not muster any more runs until the seventh inning. One reason for this was the staggering 15 runs left on base. On three separate occasions, the Gators left the bases juiced on the third out. While the game ended in a nine-run victory, it could have been much worse for the Lions (0-1).

Shelnut started the game 0-3, but his last two at-bats sealed any sort of comeback from Columbia. Shelnut’s seventh-inning home run was his first on the season. He also knocked in another run in the eighth inning to end his night going 2-5 with two RBI. This is the third straight game with at least two base hits for Shelnut.

Cade Kurland Injury Update

Amid the Gators’ 10-run first, Kurland was injured after being hit on his hand by a pitch on his second plate appearance. Kurland did not return and was replaced by senior Armando Albert.

Albert ended up going 2-3 with a walk and RBI. The Gators coach was pleased with what he saw from his veteran second baseman.

“Had two really good at-bats,” O’Sullivan said. “Versatile defensively, it was good to see him out there.”

For Kurland, the X-rays came back negative and it is a matter of how he feels this weekend, according to O’Sullivan.

Saturday’s Game

The Gators will play the second of their three-game series against Columbia at 6 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network+, ESPN Gainesville 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF).

Freshman Liam Peterson will pitch his second collegiate start. Peterson pitched three innings Tuesday against North Florida in Jacksonville. He struck out seven along with just one hit and one walk against UNF.

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The hype for Peterson is real and veteran leaders like Shelnut see something different compared to other freshmen.

“When [Peterson] gets ahead in the count he has stuff to get you away with,” Shelnut said. “Whenever he makes a bad pitch, he can bounce back and make a better pitch. He doesn’t let bad things snowball on him, he doesn’t give up on a hitter or an inning.”

About Nick VanZandt

Nick VanZandt is a senior journalism student at the University of Florida and this is his third semester working for WRUF.

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