The Florida Gators baseball team got their 2022 season underway this weekend as they hosted Liberty. After an exciting win on Friday night, the Gators would unfortunately go on to lose back-to-back games, eventually dropping the opening series to the Flames.
The weekend featured career nights, plenty of debuts and more for the Gators. Let's take a look at some of the takeaways from opening weekend.
Friday Night Career Marks
In the Gators first and only win of the opening series, it was a pretty eventful one. Hunter Barco took the mound for his first start of the year and he looked the part of someone who is ready to be the ace of the pitching staff.
Barco spent the evening displaying dominance on the mound, as he set a new career-high in strikeouts with 11 and allowing just one hit during his outing. Of the 20 batters Barco faced, 15 of them were retired by strikeout or groundout.
While the Gators starting rotation as a whole is a question mark heading into the season, Barco was the one guy who the Gators can count on and feel very confident about. It was refreshing to see him get off to a great start and show why he's worthy of that confidence.
Joining Barco in a career night was outfielder Sterlin Thompson. He went 2-4 on the night, with two home runs in similar spots off the batter's eye in center field. The second home run was a grand slam, which was the first of Thompson's collegiate career.
Thompson finished the night driving in five runs and played a major role in helping the Gators get the victory. Thompson would finish his weekend collecting at least one hit in the other two games.
Mixed Reviews For Freshman Debuts
The Gators have a variety of new faces on the club this year and the weekend featured the debuts of some of those new faces. Deric Fabian started at third base and hit ninth throughout the entire weekend.
At the plate, Fabian collected one hit and brought home a run. On Saturday and Sunday, he walked twice in each of those games, finishing the weekend with a .500 OBP. The hits will start to pile up for Fabian eventually, however, it was encouraging to see him display a good approach this early in his Gators career.
Fabian had an opportunity on Saturday to do some damage as he came up with the bases loaded and the Gators down three runs. He remained calm and took a walk on four consecutive pitches to bring in a run. Sometimes hitters will press and try to do too much in those situations, especially younger hitters, so it was great to see Deric Fabian not get overly aggressive.
The vast majority of the debuts came from the pitching staff, where there were some mixed results. Philip Abner was the first freshman pitcher to make his Gators debut on Friday. Abner did struggle to throw strikes, but he managed to toss a scoreless inning and cleaned up the mess after allowing a hit and two walks.
Abner threw again on Sunday. While he did struggle to throw strikes consistently again, this time Liberty made him pay for it as they tagged him for two runs in two-thirds of an inning. Abner's arsenal is impressive and he looks like he can be a valuable piece of the Florida team.
He's young and just needs to work on getting more strikes. For the freshman in general, it's going to take some time for them to get comfortable and to come into their own. Overall, I liked what I saw in regards to Abner's stuff.
The most impressive debut of the weekend was by far and away Pierce Coppola, who made his first start on Sunday. The 6'8" lefty came out firing, blowing fastball after fastball by Liberty hitters.
Coppola showed impressive control throughout the majority of his outing and he was filling up the strike zone. His fastball was sitting around the low-to-mid 90's and he also has a low 80's changeup and slider to round out his arsenal.
As a freshman making his first start, Coppola looked comfortable throwing all three of those pitches. The separation he gets from his fastball to his changeup, paired with the arm slot he throws from are going to give opposing hitters a headache.
Throughout his start, Coppola managed to throw 85 pitches with 60 of them being strikes. He did have a few mistakes, but overall a lot of his strikes were quality strikes. When he missed his spots, most of the time it wasn't in a location that could hurt him.
Coppola did get tagged for two runs at the end of his afternoon, but there is a lot to be excited about with his future in Gainesville. It's only one start, but for a team that has a lot of question marks about the starting rotation, you have to be pleased with what Pierce Coppola showed on the mound on Sunday.
Others making their debuts this weekend were:
Karl Hartman: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Brandon Neely: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Starting Rotation Update
This is going to be a common theme, especially early on during the season. The rotation we saw this weekend will not look the exact same moving forward. Kevin O'Sullivan mentioned before the season that there will be multiple arms competing for rotation spots.
With that being said, Timmy Manning received the starting nod for the first Saturday start of the year. It was a rough outing for Manning, who was only able to make it through three innings. Manning did strikeout the side in the top half of the first, but that was between being tagged for two runs.
Manning did manage to face the minimum his second time out there, but he started to get hit around again in the third. By that point, he was at 62 pitches with the Gators down four runs. You would have liked to see Manning eat a few more innings but that didn't seem to be in the cards on Saturday.
Brandon Sproat, another rotation candidate, relieved Manning with a clean inning to start the fourth. Sproat stayed ahead of hitters in the fourth and faced the minimum. Similar to Manning, Sproat proceeded to strike out the side in the fifth, but that was between Liberty adding another run. Sproat's day would come to an end after the fifth.
The outings between Manning and Sproat weren't particularly great, but it will take some time for the rest of the rotation to iron itself out. The positives of the weekend were Barco and Coppola, but outside of those two, there is still a lot that needs to be worked out. I imagine next weekends Gators rotation will look different than this one, so we will see what Kevin O'Sullivan tries out next.
The weekend as a whole was disappointing for the Gators, who looked like they should come away with a series victory at minimum after Friday. The team will look to bounce back this week as they head to Stetson on Tuesday and host North Florida on Wednesday. Tuesday's game will start at 6:30 PM and Wednesday's game will start at 7:00 PM
Featured Photo Credit: FloridaGators.com