A year ago, Kevin O’Sullivan wanted Blake Reese’s bat in the lineup so badly he squeezed him in there like an overstuffed burrito.
A natural infielder, Reese started the season in centerfield. It barely lasted a month and Reese found himself relegated to an understudy’s role on a national title team.
Fast forward to the opening series of this season and the big grin on the junior’s face.
“I enjoyed the weekend, for sure,” Reese said.
He started all three games at second base and delivered in a big way, as No. 1 Florida completed a sweep of Siena with a 19-2 win Sunday in front of a crowd of 3,955 at McKethan Stadium.
Reese had a bases-clearing double during a nine-run sixth inning and finished the first weekend of the season hitting a robust .583. His seven hits in the three games were the most of any Gator player.
“I’m just trying to take it at-bat by at-bat,” Reese said. “This has been a good weekend for me. Sometimes you see the ball well and it looks bigger than it really is.
“It’s a testament to a lot of hard work. I definitely feel — in my own opinion — that I worked my tail off. Sometimes it takes guys a little longer. It’s been a long two years for me.”
Reese is starting at second because of the indefinite suspension of Deacon Liput and so far has played flawlessly in the field as well.
“This game can tear you apart like no other,” he said. “You fail so many times and you get this burst of euphoria and you have to learn how to control it.”
Reese knocked in four of Florida’s 19 runs and three UF pitchers had little trouble making them stand up.
But things got a little dicey in the fifth when UF starter Tyler Dyson allowed a run to score and Siena loaded the bases on three straight hits. At that point, Florida led only 4-1, but Dyson got out of the inning.
“Even when those guys got on, I felt good,” Dyson said. “I was making a couple of pitches just a couple of inches off from being strikeouts. I felt comfortable. It wasn’t any big deal to me. It was just good to get out of it.”
Dyson threw six innings and allowed five hits with three strikeouts. Florida’s heralded starting rotation this weekend went 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA.
“(Dyson) was a little off,” said O’Sullivan. “I would bet we see a much better Dyson next weekend. He battled through it. You never know how guys are going to react to the first game and the first start. Sometimes they put too much pressure on themselves.”
Florida also got four RBI from Keenan Bell, who doubled in the first and hit his second homer of the weekend in the fifth to give UF some breathing room.
“I’m reaping the benefits of my hard work,” Bell said. “I found something that worked halfway through the fall and I’m just rolling with it. Loading up a little earlier, not so wide in stance.
“It’s always nice to get off to a good start.”
Florida finished the game with 18 hits and hit .396 with six homers for the weekend. Florida next plays at home Tuesday against Florida Atlantic at 6 p.m.