A different Shore set to start Gators’ opener

Logan Shore’s parents made the trip from Coon Rapids, Minn., for the opening weekend of the season last year, excited to see their son make the first appearance of his collegiate career.

They watched as 11 pitchers -- including four freshmen -- got time on the mound, but their son wasn’t one. Kevin O’Sullivan decided shortly after the opening series against Maryland that he would start Shore against UCF two days later, and Shore’s parents were able to stick around and watch their son’s first collegiate appearance.

He didn’t disappoint, tossing 5.1 innings without allowing an earned run, giving up just three hits and striking out four hitters. He made a relief appearance against Miami the following weekend and started the first game of a four-game series the following week.

After those six innings with no earned runs against Florida Gulf Coast, Shore’s spot as the team’s ace was cemented. He didn’t always start on Friday nights in 2014, but he served as the Gators’ stopper on the mound throughout the season.

Heading into the 2015 season, there’s no question where Shore is pitching. He’ll get the ball when the Gators open the year against Rhode Island on Friday at 7 p.m.

“I’ve come a long way,” Logan Shore said. “I’m definitely ready and excited. It’s a little different coming out as a sophomore than a freshman with a full season under my belt. I’m looking forward to another good season.”

Shore wasn’t just good last season. He completed a Freshman All-American campaign and was named SEC Freshman of the Year after posting a 2.16 ERA in 95.2 innings, giving up only 20 walks, 15 doubles and one home run. His 7-4 record was indicative of inconsistent run support, but the Coon Rapids, Minn., native was dominant throughout the year.

No one saw that caliber of a season coming. Even in preseason scrimmages, he showed plenty of talent and the ability to help the Gators on the mound, but no one could have imagined the accolades that he earned, including Perfect Game’s National Freshman Pitcher of the Year.

And when he spent the opening weekend on the bench last year, any chance for a big season seemed unlikely.

“It was (hard), especially seeing a bunch of my freshmen peers get in there and get to compete,” Shore said. I was really looking forward to it.”

Kevin O’Sullivan went into last season happy with his pitching depth, but there were a lot of questions about what the rotation would look like. He eventually decided on veteran lefty Bobby Poyner starting the season opener, but this year, that isn’t the case. He has a no-brainer at the top of his rotation, and he’s happy with Shore’s growth over the offseason.

His fastball and changeup carried him through the 2014 season, but this spring has brought even more bad news for opposing hitters. He has improved the breaking ball and added a few ticks on his fastball. What carries him this year will be exactly what did it last season -- his mature approach and calmness on the mound.

“He’s a very mature young man,” O’Sullivan said. “I think he understands the importance of being a No. 1 starter and what goes into that. He’s a sharp kid, very intellectual. He knows what needs to happen on his end, and I just leave him alone.

“I just don’t want him to try to do too much. If he goes out there and does his thing, that’s going to be plenty good enough. He doesn’t need to be Superman. He just needs to be consistent like he always is.”

When the right-hander takes the mound on Friday, temperatures in Gainesville are projected to be in the mid-40s. Most players will be wearing layers on the field and fans will be bundled up in their seats. But for Shore, its second nature. The first start on the mound during his senior year at Coon Rapids High School happened in 25-degree temperatures.

He’ll move around more in the dugout to keep his arm warm and maybe run a few extra sprints before starting his warm up, but not much will change for Shore -- except that he’ll actually be pitching when No. 2 Florida opens its season.

“This is the best team I’ve been a part of," Shore said. "I’m really looking forward to trying to get back to Omaha.”

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