Bader, youth spark Florida to blowout

The Gators broke out their bats on Saturday, and the underclassmen were the ones that

Freshman and sophomores combined to drive in 15 runs while Florida rode a new-look power offense on the way to a 22-3 win over Rhode Island to clinch the series.

The Gators hit just 26 home runs last season, and through two games, they are up to five. The fifth home run didn’t come until the team’s 19th game last season and the early portion of conference play. Florida also hit just four three-run homers last year but had four of them on Saturday, getting two from Harrison Bader while Ryan Larson and J.J. Schwarz each had one.

“It was an offensive day,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The wind was blowing straight out to left, it was a stiff wind and we got some balls up in the air. We got pitches up in the strike zone and got good swings on them.”

Florida’s season high for runs last season was 13, and they surpassed that in the sixth inning on Saturday one a two-run double by Christian Hicks.

Bader hit his third home run in the first 24 hours of the season, matching the mark he set in his first two seasons on the team, which includes 103 games.

“I think the ball maybe has something to do with it,” O’Sullivan said. “I think you’re going to see as the season goes on that there’s going to be more offensive production. I didn’t know how much the ball was going to change it, but I knew it was going to change it some. Maybe it’s going to be a little more than we thought.”

Dane Dunning started on the mound for Florida and lasted 4.1 innings, giving up three hits and one walk with two runs. He worked into some deeper counts and was pulled after reaching his pitch count of 70-75, the same number all Florida starting pitchers are on during the opening weekend.

His numbers were average, but O’Sullivan expects more from the sophomore going forward.

“I expect him to pitch a little sharper,” O’Sullivan said. “His stuff, he’s 91-95 and it’s electric. For us to get to where we want to get to, he’s going to have to pitch like he’s capable. By no means was he not good today, but I guess my bar is kind of high for him because I know how talented he is.”

The bullpen allowed one run over the final 4.2 innings, giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out three.

The Gators go for the sweep on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., sending sophomore left-hander A.J. Puk to the mound.

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