Freshmen key for Gators entering super regional

There’s been a quiet confidence among the freshmen on Florida’s baseball team all season long.

You won’t see them making a lot of noise whenever they’re off the field, but once they step onto the field, and especially in the batter’s box, it’s hard not to hear them.

The quartet of Jonathan India, Deacon Liput, Nelson Maldonado and Danny Reyes had a huge impact in the outcomes of the three games in last weekend’s regional tournament victory that propelled the top-seeded Gators (50-13) into this weekend’s super regional against Florida State (40-20).

The return of Peter Alonso to the lineup gave it a huge jolt of confidence and production after he missed three weeks with a broken hand. However, he’s different than the four freshmen.

Alonso is building a reputation of having bat flips whenever he crushes a home run, but when India hit his go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 6-5 win over Connecticut, there was no bat flip. But the home run, and the at-bat, was just as big as one Alonso hit.

“Jonathan hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth, it’s (was) really big at-bat for us,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

With the game tied at 5 in the late innings, India — an American Heritage alum who this week was named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team— hit his fourth home run of the season, dwarfing the other three in significance.

“I was going up just looking for a fastball. He was actually throwing a lot of sliders early, but I was just sitting dead-red fastball and I got my good pitch,” India said. “I thought I hit it pretty well, but then I saw it coming back a little bit. I’m just glad it went out.”

In the postgame press conference, India sat quietly in between Alonso and pitcher Dane Dunning. Even though he’s doesn’t say much you can see the confidence and the fire that comes from within him.

The same thing can be said about Reyes, who had his chance to speak to the media after going 2-for-2 and driving in three runs in Friday’s 9-3 win over Bethune-Cookman. He hit his first career home run against Connecticut and has seen his playing time increase since being inserted in the lineup during the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

While he hasn’t had the same amount of playing time as India, Liput and Maldonado, Reyes has been one of the Gators’ top producers since the SEC Tournament.

“The freshmen are not freshmen anymore,” said O’Sullivan, a Jupiter High graduate. “I think you can say Danny Reyes is a freshman because he hasn’t had quite as many at-bats, but the other guys have played 62 games now. For me, they’re sophomores.”

And three of those four freshmen, India, Reyes and Maldonado, were named to the Gainesville Regional All-Tournament team.

O’Sullivan is one of the top recruiters in the country. Year-in-and-year-out, he brings freshmen like the four he plays now. It’s not easy to play baseball at Florida, which is expected to make Omaha each year.

O’Sullivan says that everyone on the team has to earn their starting spot. He throws them into the fire and sees how they react, and he’s been impressed with his four underclassmen.

“I knew Jonathan was going to be a good player. … We knew Liput was going to be a good player,” O’Sullivan said. “We had a feeling that Nelly was going to be a good player and we had a good feeling that Reyes was going to be a good player.”

As the Gators continue their march through the postseason with a matchup against rival Florida State in the Super Regionals beginning on Saturday, the freshmen will continue to be quiet.

However, O’Sullivan doesn’t expect their bats to be as silent.

“It’s not easy to play as a freshman in this league, let alone this time of year with the kind of pressure is there and they’re handling it pretty well,” O’Sullivan said.

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