GAINESVILLE - For Zack Powers, hitting two grand slams Sunday was just a bonus. After missing all of 2012 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, he was happy to simply be back on the field.
Making his first career start at first base, Powers belted two grand slams and knocked in nine runs as a late-inning offensive outburst helped Florida defeat Duke 16-5 in the finale of the season-opening series at McKethan Stadium.
“It’s great to have a good game like this, but it’s great to actually be back and playing,” Powers said. “It’s special just to get out on the field and start playing baseball.”
Powers had just seven RBIs in his career before coming up one shy of a Florida record with nine Sunday. His home runs were the first two of his career.
Not since Preston Tucker in 2009 has Florida had a player hit multiple grand slams in a game. Although the Gators smacked an NCAA-best 75 home runs last season, none of them were grand slams. UF’s last grand slam before Sunday was during the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“I was very happy for Zack,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m just pleased that he’s healthy and contributing like we always knew he could.”
Before Powers’ bombs pushed the final margin to 11, his sacrifice fly to deep center with the bases loaded in the sixth inning tied the score at 3.
“I did think I got all of that one,” Powers said of narrowly missing a third grand slam. “But it’s great just to get an RBI out of it.”
Stepping to the plate in the seventh with the bases loaded and UF leading 6-3, Powers said he was looking for a single to extend UF’s lead. Instead, he found a 2-2 fastball he liked and pounded it over the right-field fence.
When Powers went up to the plate with the bases loaded and UF ahead by seven in the eighth, he took a different approach.
“The second time up, I kind of got greedy and wanted to go for it,” Powers said.
After fouling off the first 3-2 offering, Powers found a fastball he could handle and launched a towering fly ball to right field.
Duke’s Jeff Kremer slowly backpedalled and appeared as if he might have a play on the ball, but his leaping effort at the wall came up a few feet short.
Powers’ offensive explosion headlined a late resurgence for UF’s offense, which broke open a close game by pounding out 14 runs on 11 hits in Sunday’s final three innings. The Gators notched only nine runs on 14 hits in the series’ first 22 frames.
“We needed an inning like that,” O’Sullivan said. “We were kind of scraping by all weekend.”
For his part in the turnaround, Powers gets a few “good game” accolades from his teammates and one other reward.
“I get extra food whenever we go through the line after the game,” Powers said.
The Gators won two out of three games in the season-opening series for both teams. UF’s next game is Tuesday night at Central Florida.