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Freshman center fielder Buddy Reed made the defensive play of the game Friday with an over-the-shoulder catch.

Friday February 14, 2014Freshmen Come up Big for Gators in Season Opener

Freshman center fielder Buddy Reed made the defensive play of the game Friday with an over-the-shoulder catch.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If the UF baseball team is going to contend for an SEC title this season, the Gators must get production from the 17 newcomers on the roster.

They delivered in the season opener.

Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan used three true freshmen in the starting lineup Friday night against Maryland, and all three contributed in the Gators' 4-0 win at McKethan Stadium.

In fact, designated hitter Peter Alonso, center fielder Buddy Reed and left fielder Ryan Larson all played key roles in the decisive three-run third inning.

Alonso led off a scoreless game with a single. He went to second when Reed drew a one-out walk off Maryland starter Jake Stinnett. Richie Martin's infield single then loaded the bases for Larson.

Buddy Reed

In his second career at-bat, Larson chopped a grounder to third that Terrapins third baseman Jose Cuas had to charge to have any chance of getting an out at home.

Cuas fielded the ball cleanly and scooped it to catcher Kevin Martir with his glove. However, Alonso slid safely into home as Martir bobbled the ball and dropped it. Reed, who had rounded third and kept his eye on the play at the plate, raced home and scored (photo, left) as Martir retrieved the ball nearby.

Those two runs ended up all the Gators would need behind a combined shutout from starter Bobby Poyner (5 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 5 strikeouts) and relievers Ryan Harris and Danny Young.

Reed's heads-up play to score from second on Larson's fielder's choice -- Martir was also credited with an error -- brought the announced crowd of 4,026 to its feet.

"You don't see that too often,'' O'Sullivan said. "It was instinctual and a heck of a play."

A three-sport standout in high school -- he played baseball, soccer and hockey at St. George's School in Rhode Island -- Reed has a simple motto.

"Never stop running,'' he said. "After I rounded third ... I just decided to take off. It was all instinct."

While Reed's base running on the play produced a run, his most impressive play came in the top of the fifth inning.

With two outs and Maryland leadoff hitter Charlie White at the plate, Reed was playing White shallow in center field. The speedy White, who stole 39 bases last season, lifted a pitch well over Reed's head toward deep center.

Reed turned and raced toward the warning track with his back to the infield, eventually hauling in White's drive with an over-the-shoulder catch.

Once again, O'Sullivan was impressed but not surprised by Reed's highlight-reel play.

"I've been bragging about him,'' O'Sullivan said. "He's got skills. He's got tools. He's got what professional people look for. He's tall. He's got arm strength. He can run. He's a switch-hitter. He's got a long way to go, but tonight was a great night.

"I think you kind of saw a glimpse of how he plays the game. He plays it hard. He doesn't play it tentatively."

Reed went 0-for-2 but walked, scored a run and recorded four putouts in center.

Meanwhile, Alonso went 1-for-2 with a run and Larson finished 1-for-4 with an RBI, which came on his third-inning fielder's choice. He picked up his first career hit with a single in the eighth.

Larson played at Dr. Phillips High in Orlando and impressed Florida's coaching staff with a stellar fall season. O'Sullivan said after Friday's game that he projected Larson to be the starting left fielder after fall camp concluded.

However, Reed broke his thumb and fell behind. He was in the starting lineup Friday for sophomore Harrison Bader, who started as a true freshman a year ago but is suspended to start the season.

Before their debuts Friday, Larson and Reed developed a close relationship as workout partners at practice. They motivated each other and relied on one another for support as they adjusted to college.

"At first we were competing against each other, but now, how it's played out, it's pretty awesome that we're both out there as freshmen," Larson said. "Whatever Coach sends our way, I think all of us as a freshmen class is ready."

They are certainly off to a good start.


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