Saturday February 16, 2013A ho-hum opening night for Gators, who didn't come back like Chipper hoped
Updated: 8:40am, February 16
Updated: 8:40am, February 16
Gators outfielder Cory Reid picked up his first career hit on opening night.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The pieces were in place for a festive opening night at McKethan Stadium on Friday.
A season-opening record crowd of 5,771 showed up on a cool night to watch the Gators open the 2013 season against Duke.
Based on recent history, the Blue Devils had no chance. The Gators entered a perfect 5-0 in season openers under head coach Kevin O'Sullivan. The Gators had won 12 consecutive games against ACC opponents, including a 10-0 mark last season.
And you had to like Florida's chances with junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford on the mound where he threw a no-hitter eight months ago in one of the more memorable moments in the program's history.
For good measure, future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones -- a big Gators fan -- stopped by the dugout prior to the game and spent the next few innings watching from his seat behind home plate when he wasn't taking pictures with fans.
The only piece that didn't fall into place at the end was the final score: Duke 4, Florida 3.
"There is a lot of emphasis on opening night,'' O'Sullivan said afterward. "Everybody wants to play well on opening night. You want to win at home, but Duke played better than we did -- simple as that."
Hard to argue with O'Sullivan's analysis.
Blue Devils starter Trent Swart kept the Gators guessing for six innings and third baseman Jordan Betts drove a Crawford pitch over the left-center wall in the fourth inning for a two-run homer, an early reminder that Duke didn't take that long bus ride on Thursday to simply show up and roll over.
The Gators eventually tied the game 2-2 on Vickash Ramjit's RBI sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, but a leadoff walk by Gators reliever Corey Stump in the eighth set up Mike Rosenfield's go-ahead RBI triple. Rosenfield later scored on an error by Gators second baseman Casey Turgeon.
Florida rallied for a run in the eighth but went quietly in its final at-bat to drop the season opener for the first time since 2007 to VMI.
As a throng of Duke fans cheered the Blue Devils as they emptied their dugout and headed for the team bus, Gators reliever Ryan Harris (two shutout innings) said the Gators have 55 more games to play better than they did in their first one.
"We're ready to bounce back tomorrow and try to even the series,'' Harris said. "It's just one game. We know we didn't play our best game but we're going to come back and be resilient."
As opening nights go, the Gators have had better. Still, one game does not make a season.
The most famous fan at Friday's game knows that. Jones left after a few innings to head to Orlando and visit his former teammates with the Braves for spring training, but he did say goodbye on Twitter.
(Photo: Chipper Jones, left)
"Enjoyed being round Gator nation tonite. Hopefully they come back and get the W. Met a ton of nice people. Go Gators!"
The Gators will try to do better on Saturday. First pitch is shortly after 4 p.m.
NOTES AND NUGGETS
--In his first career game, redshirt freshman Cory Reid started in right field and went 1-for-2 with an RBI. Reid's RBI single in the second inning gave the Gators a 1-0 lead.
"It felt pretty good,'' said Reid, a product of Port St. Lucie High on the Treasure Coast in South Florida.
O'Sullivan liked the way the inexperienced Reid handled the opening-night start.
"He's been swinging the bat really good He plays really good defense,'' O'Sullivan said. "When we got back in January, it felt like he had made that turn. He earned it."
--Working on a pitch count, Crawford lasted 3 2/3 innings. He threw 74 pitches and gave up three hits and two runs. Crawford walked one and struck out four and threw the ball well according to O'Sullivan.
--Reid may be inexperience and a relative newcomer, but the big crowd wasn't lost on him.
"The crowd was great. We liked it. Hopefully they come out again tomorrow,'' he said.
The crowd filled in nicely by the end of the first inning and most hung around until the late innings when the temperature dipped into the high 40s.
--One area O'Sullivan wants to see the Gators do a better job at Saturday is patience at the plate.
"I thought we swung at some balls out of the zone early in the count,'' he said. "When we got into offensive counts, I thought we re-routed some swings when we need to stay in our stance and get a better pitch to hit."
Florida left four runners on base and went down 1-2-3 in five of the nine innings.
"We said this all along -- this isn't going to be a finished product by no means when we start the season. We've got a lot of young players and they'll get better as they go along,'' O'Sullivan said.