UF newcomers put stamp on season-opening win

Florida freshman Taylor Gushue connects on a solo home run on the first pitch he saw as a Gator during UF's opening game against Cal State Fullerton at McKethan Stadium on Friday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, February 17, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 12:30 a.m.

For a team with so many returning stars it is ranked No. 1 in the preseason, Florida's baseball team turned to its newcomers for a spark in its season opener Friday night.

Three freshmen started for Florida and all contributed in the Gators' 7-3 victory over Cal State Fullerton at McKethan Stadium.

Designated hitter Taylor Gushue homered on the first pitch he saw, second baseman Casey Turgeon drove in a run with a double and Josh Tobias started a four-run seventh by beating out an infield single in the seventh.

“They all earned their places in the lineup,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “They're all going to be good players.”

It was Florida's youngest player who got things going in the second inning with an opposite-field homer. The 18-year-old Gushue, who graduated early from Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale, didn't know he was in the starting lineup until he saw his name on Florida's new video board before the game.

“I saw my name and said, ‘Let's go,' ” Gushue said. “When I hit it, I thought, ‘I hit that kind of good.' Then I heard everyone screaming. The feeling was unbelievable. I can't describe it.”

His homer tied the game at one in the second inning, but Florida found itself trailing 3-2 before Preston Tucker hit a solo homer in the sixth. In the seventh, Tobias had an infield single that was followed by two walks to load the bases against Cal State Fullerton's young bullpen.

Daniel Pigott was hit by a pitch to force in what would prove to be the winning run. Tucker followed with a shallow fly ball, but Turgeon was able to use his speed to race home from third ahead of the throw. RBI singles by juniors Mike Zunino and Brian Johnson finished off the inning.

“This win meant a lot,” said O'Sullivan. “We're back on the field, back in the swing of things. There's such a long layoff between the end of one season and the beginning of another.

“We knew it would be a tough game.”

Despite a forecast that called for possible rain and occasional sprinkles during the day, the crowd of 5,356 was an opening-night record for McKethan Stadium.

That crowd saw Fullerton take a 1-0 lead off UF starter Hudson Randall in the second inning. Randall allowed only two hits in the first five innings before Fullerton reached him in the sixth for two runs to take the lead.

Reliever Steven Rodriguez came in with two out in the sixth to strike out Ivory Thomas and then pitched two more innings of scoreless relief. Greg Larson pitched a scoreless ninth to secure Florida's first win of the year.

“It was tough to get back out there for the first time,” said Rodriguez, who picked up where he left off at the College World Series. “But it was a good start to the season.”

An illustration of Florida's depth was that it won without using preseason All-American Austin Maddox. Johnson started at first base, and Vickash Ramjit came in as a defensive replacement.

“He's gonna hit this weekend,” O'Sullivan said. “And he's gonna pitch. We're not going to go very far without his bat and his right arm.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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