Stepping up to the plate with two men on base was freshman shortstop Nick Gonzalez. It was his first ever college game and he was ahead in the count with one ball and no strikes.
After seeing the second pitch of his college career, Gonzalez swung his 33-inch, 30-ounce Rawlings Velo. He connected — the satisfying metallic clink of the bat meeting a low-90s fastball silenced the crowd. That silence only lasted a second and was almost immediately followed by applause and whistles. A majority of the USF fans in attendance stood up.
Nick Gonzalez had just hit a three-run homer in his first college at bat.
The standing ovation continued while the freshman rounded the bases. Nobody was cheering louder than the Gonzalez family.
Gonzalez’s father, Carlos, was the last to sit down. He was too busy wiping tears from his eyes to find his seat.
“I was so nervous because it was such an important at-bat,” Carlos said. “But as soon as he hit it, I knew it was gone. He’s worked so hard for this, it is great to see it all pay off.”
Gonzalez’s homer gave the Bulls a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, a lead they continued to build to a 7-4 victory in their season opener against Samford on Friday night.
Clearly, Gonzalez wasn’t the only source of offense for the Bulls who started scoring early in the first inning. Senior Kyle Phillips got on base from a line drive that snuck in between Samford’s first and second basemen. Two batters later, senior Joe Genord drove Phillips in on a line drive to left-center field.
“That guy on the mound for Samford [Samuel Strickland] was really good, preseason all-American and everything else,” coach Billy Mohl said. “For our offense to come out swinging the bats like they did, I was very happy.”
USF’s other freshman, starting third baseman Dylan Buck, also homered with a solo shot in the third inning.
“It’s hard to replace guys like Coco Montes and David Villar but you saw what we’ve got tonight,” Mohl said. “We’ve got two very good, young players … Those are going to be two very special freshmen moving forward and I was happy to see them have success early.”
The Bulls kept scoring and junior pitcher Collin Sullivan kept the Bulldogs at bay, allowing just two earned runs on four hits through six innings. Sullivan posted a new career-high with 10 strikeouts. He was replaced in the seventh inning by junior Dylan Burns, who threw until the ninth inning when junior Nelson Alvarez came in to close the game.
“We were able to get some guys in there, I wanted to get Nelson in a game where it wasn’t all on the line and get him some work,” Mohl said. “Dylan Burns, he’s made progress and I wanted to see what he’d do when the lights came on.”
While the season-opening win was certainly a team effort on both sides of the ball, it’s unlikely that Gonzalez will ever forget his first game for USF when he helped the Bulls pull away for a win.
“It was a hit-and-run,” Mohl said. “And he drove it out of the park.”