Anxious Gators ready for fresh start in season opener

Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan (7) will start pitcher Bobby Poyner, left, in Friday's opener against Maryland.

Brad McClenny / Staff photographer / FILE
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 12:14 a.m.

After a long offseason that probably seemed longer than usual, Florida's baseball team finally takes the field for real on Friday.


Florida's season-opening series

Who: Maryland at Florida
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday
Where: McKethan Stadium
TV: FSN on Friday
Radio: AM-850

The Gators face Maryland in the first of a three-game series that starts the marathon that is a 56-game college season. For a team that finished under .500 last season, a fast start would be nice.

“It sets the tone for the whole season,” junior Zack Powers said of a fruitful first month.

Florida has the chance to get off to a good start with its first 21 games in the state of Florida and 17 of those games at home. It starts with Maryland, a team that went 30-25 last year and hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1971. The Terrapins have 23 freshmen and sophomores on the roster and hit only 13 homers last year.

“It's so exciting,” said shortstop Richie Martin, “to be finally playing against another team. We've been scrimmaging against each other for seven months.”

Florida's rotation for the weekend will start with junior Bobby Poyner on Friday. Poyner had seven starts in 2013 and went 3-3 with a 3.41 ERA.

“He's throwing awfully well,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “He had a heck of a summer at the Cape Cod League and he hasn't stopped getting people out. And he's older.”

Karsten Whitson, who missed last year with a shoulder injury, will get the start Sunday. Freshman Brett Morales will pitch Saturday.

“Karsten hasn't pitched in a long time, and I think it's important for him to watch a couple of games,” O'Sullivan said. “The rotation is extremely fluid. It's going to change.”

Florida is hoping the nation's No. 1-ranked freshman class will infuse both talent and energy into a team that struggled last season. Florida appeared in three straight College World Series from 2010-12, then flopped last year with a two-and-through in the tournament.

But if there has been a theme among the players, it's that last year is old news. This year is a fresh start and a different team.

“Everybody's 0-0,” said second baseman Casey Turgeon. “We're pretty excited for the start of a new season.”

The Gators will start the season without one of their best players in center fielder Harrison Bader, who hit .312 and started 57 games last year. Bader has been suspended indefinitely after being in a scooter accident in which alcohol may have been involved.

“We're ready to go as a team,” said Martin. “It's disappointing, but we're all human and we all make mistakes.”

Maryland is led by center fielder Charlie White, who hit .350 last season and stole 39 bases. Keeping him off the bases will be important for the Gators.

“It's a key,” O'Sullivan said. “He makes the offense go.”

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