Brady McConnell expected the worst.
Instead, he got the best.
Minutes after he let a routine grounder go under his glove to allow a run to score and tie the game, the freshman shortstop knew that emotional Florida starter Brady Singer would not be happy in the dugout.
“He’s usually on people when they make errors behind him,” McConnell said. “It wasn’t a good one behind him. It didn’t feel good.”
Instead of getting a tongue-lashing, McConnell got a confidence booster.
“I gave him a big hug,” Singer said. “It’s hard going out there and being a freshman playing shortstop. He was a little bit down on himself. And he came back and did what he did.”
McConnell delivered an eighth-inning two-run moonshot homer, then started a double play to end the game in the ninth as a crowd of 5,270 watched Friday at McKethan Stadium.
It was a fantastic end to a frustrating first half of the night and while his homer was padding to Florida’s 7-1 win over Siena on opening night, it was important for the psyche of a player who is expected to play a vital role on the 2018 team.
“With any freshman there are going to be some growing pains,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “He’s a really good player, wiry but he has a different snap in his wrists. The ball went a long way. It went as high as it went far.”
Not only had McConnell made an error that cost UF a shutout, he was working on a three-strikeout game at the plate before the homer.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “I let it get the best of me. I just tried to simplify things. I’ve been playing this game for awhile.”
So has Singer, the projected first pick in the Major League draft in June. The junior was dominating on the mound, giving up only two singles in seven innings while striking out eight and throwing 89 pitches, 62 of them for strikes.
“I had fun,” he said. “That’s the one thing I wanted to do was go out and throw strikes. It was fun to go out there and have success and watch the guys play like they did.”
Despite Singer’s dominance, Florida was in a tie game heading to the bottom of the sixth.
UF struggled against Siena starter Brendan White, who pitched the entire night from the stretch, before junior Jonathan India led off the fourth with UF’s first hit of the new season.
It went a long way.
India’s no-doubt homer to left gave Florida a 1-0 lead, but Siena tied it in the sixth on McConnell’s two-out error.
“It was probably good for us to have a close game like that because there will be a lot of them,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a valuable lesson to our guys that people are going to elevate their games against us.”
The Gators answered in the bottom of the inning. JJ Schwarz doubled to lead off the inning, his second hit of the game. Junior college transfer Wil Dalton singled sharply to left with two outs to put the Gators back in the lead. His first hit as a Gator turned out to be the game-winner.
“There are quite a few games left; hopefully it won’t be the last one,” Dalton said. “It was very exciting all day. I was very antsy not knowing what to expect. I’m not going to say I was nervous, but there was a lot of excitement.
“It was definitely good to get the first hit under the belt, get the first RBI and help the team out.”
Junior Blake Reese then roped a double to left after Dalton stole second to make it 3-1. In the seventh, Nelson Maldonado’s two-run double gave UF a 5-1 lead.
Freshman Jordan Butler pitched the final two innings, striking out four and allowing no hits.
The teams play again at 4 p.m. Saturday
Who: Siena (0-1) vs. No. 1 Florida (1-0)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: McKethan Stadium
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Pitching matchup: Siena LHP Tommy Miller (Career: 11-13, 5.29 ERA) vs. UF RHP Jackson Kowar (Career: 15-1, 3.91 ERA)