The Blue Devils have won 21 and 26 games over the past two years respectively, and they lost their best pitcher to the MLB Draft following last season. It was a brand name program from the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the product wasn't there on the field.
Despite that, the Gators looked like the ones out of place.
It was sloppy from the beginning. Florida freshman shortstop Richie Martin made an error on his second chance of the game and his career. Sophomore second baseman Casey Turgeon, who was a Freshman All-American last season, made an error on a routine ground ball that allowed the eventual game-winning run to score.
The approach at the plate was even worse. The young Florida lineup was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and trying to do too much when they did get a hittable pitch.
"One of the main things was that we swung at balls out of the zone early in the count," O'Sullivan said. "When we got into offensive counts, we routed some swings instead of staying in our stance and getting a better pitch to hit. We got into offensive counts, but we chased a little bit.
"It's just opening night. We've been swinging the bat pretty good."
The Gators did have opportunities. Down 4-2 in the eighth inning, freshman Harrison Bader scored from third base when the pitcher picked off to the first baseman, who dropped the ball. With runners on first and second, the Gators were desperate for a hit to win the game with senior Vickash Ramjit at the plate.
It's a new role for even the senior. When those opportunities came in the past, there was always an All-American to stride to the plate and get the job done. Now the Gators will continue their search for those players.
"It's the middle of the order guys that we're going to need to lean on," O'Sullivan said. "Ramjit, Gushue, Tobias, Shafer—those guys, we'll have to lean on them."
Duke starting pitcher Trent Swart allowed four hits and one walk over six innings while striking out four hitters. He sat in the mid 80s with his fastball and mixed in multiple off-speed pitches to keep the Gators from sitting on his fastball. He located to both sides of the plate and had a lot of success.
"He was mixing up pitches," said Florida outfielder Cory Reid, who started his first career game. "He was off-speed for strikes, which is always good. We're not used to seeing a lefty that doesn't throw mid-90s. He mixed up pitches well."
A problem on the mound came in the eighth inning. O'Sullivan went to left-hander Corey Stump (0-1) to face Jeff Kremer, Duke's left-handed right fielder. Despite his advance, Stump issued a walk and put him on base. Duke catcher Mike Rosenfeld followed with a triple to deep center field, scoring Kremer and giving Duke a 4-3 advantage.
After stump struck out a left-handed hitter to follow, O'Sullivan went to the bullpen. Right-hander Keenan Kish came in to pitch, and with the infield playing in, he induced a ground ball right at second baseman Casey Turgeon, but the ball kicked off the sophomore's glove and allowed the run to score, giving the Blue Devils a 4-2 lead in the middle of the eighth inning.
The issue was the walk to start it. Stump was effective against left-hander in scrimmages during the offseason, and walking a left-hander to start Duke's biggest inning hurt Florida.
"It's early in the year and I've got to see what guys can do. (Throwing strikes) has been a point of emphasis. The leadoff walk—you just can't do it, especially left-on-left. We've got to throw strikes in that situation."
The same thing happened in the fourth inning to starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford. He allowed a leadoff walk to Chris Marconcini, and third baseman Jordan Betts followed by launching a ball into the left field bleachers.
The Gators started three innings by allowing a leadoff walk. All four of Duke's runs came in those innings.
Florida and Duke return to action at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Gators will send freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson to the mound for his first career start.