Gators finish sweep of Thundering Herd in a big way

Florida infielder Kirby McMullen was the hitting star of the weekend, batting in the three hole and living up to that spot in the lineup. Three games in, he is hitting .625 with an on-base percentage of .769. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

The culmination of the first weekend and the last opening weekend at McKethan Stadium gave Florida’s fourth-ranked baseball team some of what it wanted.

Not everything, of course. 

But who wants to be perfect this early?

The Gators completed a sweep of Marshall with a 15-8 win Sunday in front of a crowd of 3,903 in a game that was more about the Gator bats than the arms. Florida had to come back from two deficits, 2-0 and 5-2, in the first two innings.

And that was actually one of the good things.

“It was a good day to get tested early,” said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “It was good for us to keep our composure, keep our cool.”

The Gators kept cool by scorching the baseball again and finished off the first three-game series with 34 runs on 34 hits.

“The story of the weekend,” O’Sullivan said, “was our offense.”

Florida outscored Marshall 34-10 over the three games and had seven homers. 

“We have a tremendous lineup from top to bottom,” said first baseman Brady Smith. “There are no holes.”

 Smith had himself a game on Sunday with a pair of homers, massive shots that may have been the cause of the intermittent showers during the game.

“I felt like the second one was kind of better,” he said. “I kind of pimped it a little bit.”

Two things that did not go great for the Gators this weekend — the Sunday start and a revamped infield defensively.

It was Nick Pogue who got the start, but he kept leaving his fastball out over the plate and Marshall kept hitting it when he threw it. The Thundering Herd scored twice in the first inning and took a 5-2 lead on Geordon Blanton’s three-run homer in the second.

Pogue kept throwing sliders to Blanton before giving in with a fastball.

“He started because he pitched really well in the preseason,” O’Sullivan said. “His fastball didn’t have the same pop (Sunday).”

The Gators ended up using seven pitchers in the game (Christian Scott got the win with 2.2 scoreless relief innings) and 13 for the series.

“We got a lot of guys out there,” O’Sullivan said. “We need to figure the pitching out. We have enough depth. We have enough talent. We have a lot of options.”

Florida committed three errors in the series and had several other misplays that went for hits. With Kirby McMullen playing third for the first time, Cory Acton moving from third to second and freshman Josh Rivera at short, the defense may take some time to get its feet wet.

McMullen struggled with a couple of ground balls, but he was the hitting star of the weekend, batting in the three hole and living up to that spot in the lineup. Three games in, he is hitting .625 with an on-base percentage of .769.

“I’m just happy he was able to show what he’s been doing in practice,” said O’Sullivan. 

Florida also got two hits from freshman Nathan Hickey, who is hitting .500 after two starts.

“I stepped in for my first at-bat on Friday, I couldn’t feel my legs,” Hickey said. “It’s a whole different experience. I’ve never played in front of 5,000 people. It’s nerve wracking the first couple of games up there. I feel my legs now.”

Florida used three different lineups in the three games and hit .327 with 15 extra-base hits. 

“We have some depth,” said O’Sullivan. “We’re going to have some tough decisions to make concerning the lineup.”

Those decisions are going to come at this team fast, as Florida plays twice against Jacksonville (there Tuesday, the Mac Wednesday) and three times at Miami.

Freshman Hunter Barco will get the start Tuesday in Jacksonville.