In Friday’s 13-5 win over Florida State, the Gators started four freshmen -- second baseman Dalton Guthrie, catcher Mike Rivera, designated hitter J.J. Schwarz and right fielder Jeremy Vasquez. The four combined to go 4-9 at the plate with five walks, one home run, five runs scored and five RBI.
“They’re making us look smart,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said through a grin. “They’ve done a really good job.”
The truth is, this was always the plan. The Florida staff knew these freshmen would be able to hit enough to play right away. How much they’d produce was up to them. Collegiate Baseball named Schwarz the co-Freshman of the Year nationally and put Guthrie and Rivera on its Freshman All-American team earlier this week. Vasquez missed the first four weeks of the year with a broken finger but has earned a spot in the starting lineup in recent weeks.
Four freshmen is a unique set up for O’Sullivan’s teams. There were times where he had four freshmen hitters in the starting lineup during the 2010 season, but there weren’t many of them.
It bodes well for the future of the Florida program, but it’s also looking good for the present.
“When you’re starting four freshmen in the lineup, I don’t know that we’ve done that,” O’Sullivan said. “Then you throw Alex Faedo in the mix and he’s starting on the mound. We’re awfully young, but they’re good players.
“I’d be lying to you if I said we were surprised by what they’re doing. We knew the type of players they were before they got here. The way they’ve done it consistently has been really impressive.”
During the postseason, Schwarz is hitting .543 (19-35) with five doubles, two homers, 12 runs scored and 14 RBI. He continues to lead all SEC hitters in RBI and would be the first freshman to end the season with the RBI lead since Todd Walker did it for LSU in 1992.
He has split time with Rivera, who had a clutch two-out, two-run single in the first inning Friday, catching all season. O’Sullivan thinks that’s a big reason for their offensive production this season.
“The way Mike and JJ support each other, it has helped their legs behind the plate,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful offensively all year. There really hasn’t been a drop off with either one of them. Those guys have been doing great.
“Jeremy has also been swinging the bat well, as good as anybody in our lineup.”
SHORE HANDLES UNIQUE TASK: Facing the Florida State offense is different than most opponents. The Seminoles work long at bats, see a lot of pitches and lead the country in walks. It looked like Shore would be another starter that fell victim to their approach.
It took 16 pitches in the first inning for Shore to record his first out of the game by striking out John Sansone. It took the sophomore 22 pitches to get out of the first inning, but he settled in after that.
The four-run first inning also helped, allowing Shore to concentrate on throwing strikes and letting the nation’s best defense behind him go to work.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Shore said of the early runs. “The offense has been really coming through for me the past few starts. I can’t credit them enough. It’s awesome going out there, especially in a big game like this. Adrenaline is going in the first inning, and it helped me calm down and get my groove going. I just hope they keep bringing the bats the rest of the year.”
STAFF DOMINANCE CONTINUES: Shore’s outing was the fourth strong start the Gators have received in four games this NCAA Tournament. In the four games, Florida starters have gone 23.2 innings, allowing 13 hits, five walks and just one earned run while striking out 21 hitters. The innings number is lower than normal because Shore was pulled after five innings last weekend against Florida A&M in case he was needed the rest of the weekend.
When asked about the starters’ dominance in recent games, O’Sullivan smiled and knocked on the wood table before answering.
“Any successful team revolves around pitching and defense,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve always pitched it well and played great defense.”
SEMINOLES DEFENSE STRUGGLING IN GAINESVILLE: In 16 innings on defense in two games at McKethan Stadium, Florida State has made nine errors. Four of them have been made by freshman third baseman Dylan Busby, who made three in the first meeting and came off the bench to make his fourth on Friday.
The errors hurt again on Friday, and Florida State coach Mike Martin saw the Gators take advantage.
“A couple were nerves,” Martin said. “A couple were very uncharacteristic. You never say you expected something to happen like this, but having done this for a while, it’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this happen in the first game of a Regional or Super Regional.”