A year ago, his first weekend couldn’t have been much worse.
This year … slightly better for Brady McConnell.
McConnell lasted only five starts after suffering an injury on opening night in 2018, but he started 2019 off with a five-hit opening weekend as No. 6 Florida finished off a sweep of Long Beach State.
“Obviously, it’s exciting for me,” he said. “I’m just glad we’re winning. I’m just trying to stay as relaxed as I can, hit the ball with hard contact.”
McConnell’s five hits exceeded the three he had during a 22 at-bat freshman year.
“He needed that,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “We needed it, but he needed it even more so for his confidence.”
Florida (3-0) finished off its first series broomwork, sweeping Long Beach State with a 3-1 win Sunday and giving O’Sullivan his 500th career win in the process.
The win didn’t come without a cost as senior captain Blake Reese suffered a shoulder injury diving for a ground ball at second in the sixth inning.
Reese punched the ground with his right hand after getting to his knees following the play. But O’Sullivan said it was the recurrence of an injury suffered last year by Reese in the Super Regional and the shoulder joint was popped back into place.
“He’s gonna be sore, but I don’t think it’s going to keep him out for a long time,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll probably give him Tuesday and Wednesday off and have him back for the weekend.”
The Gators play again Tuesday at USF, then host UNF on Wednesday and have a weekend series with Miami starting Friday.
Reese was replaced by freshman Cory Acton, meaning Florida had four true freshmen in the field for the last three-plus innings.
Two other freshmen — redshirt freshman Hunter Ruth and true freshman Nolan Crisp — pitched the final three innings.
But it was sophomore Jack Leftwich (1-0) who set the tone, giving up only one run and five hits in six strong innings.
“I just tried to attack and be consistent,” Leftwich said. “I felt really good with my command.”
Leftwich had no walks and five strikeouts during his outing.
But Long Beach State grabbed its first lead of the weekend in the second inning when Aidan Malm launched a solo homer to left field, the only homer of the three-game series.
“I left it up, but solo homers like that don’t hurt me,” Leftwich said.
Florida bounced back in the third, loading the bases on McConnell’s single, a walk and a hit batter. Dirtbags starter Alfred Ruiz’s third walk of the game — this one to freshman Jud Fabian of Ocala — tied the game at one.
Freshman Roberto Pena then hit a shot to third that was booted by Long Beach State’s Tanner Carlson to allow another run to score.
In the fourth, the Gators added a run when McConnell registered another hit, a double to score freshman catcher Santino Miozzi after his double to start the inning.
Ruth, a Buchholz product who pitched for the first time since late in his high school senior season (Tommy John surgery), gave the Gators two scoreless innings.
“I thought his stuff was darting,” O’Sullivan said. “He was really efficient in his first so we said, ‘Let’s run him back out there.’
“He’s going to be a huge piece of this pitching staff.”
Crisp pitched a scoreless ninth to get his second save of the young season.