Opening Day, Friday Night Starter: Cade Fisher Flashed Signs Near End of Freshman Season - Florida Gators (2024)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan repeatedly showed how much he trusted Cade Fisher in critical moments as last season neared the final out.

He handed the then-freshman lefty the ball in Florida's must-win NCAA Tournament game against Texas Tech, and Fisher responded by allowing only one run over seven innings. Fisher came out of the bullpen to pitch two scoreless innings in a win over South Carolina to open the Gainesville Super Regional, and once the Gators advanced to Omaha, Fisher appeared in five of UF's six games in the College World Series.

The trend will continue this season with O'Sullivan naming Fisher, a sophom*ore from Dalton, Ga., the Friday night starter.

"You kind of saw it coming,'' O'Sullivan said.

Fisher's emergence as a reliable option out of the bullpen and fill-in starter in the final month of his freshman season set the stage for an expanded role in 2024, considering the departures of starters Brandon Sproat and Hurston Waldrep. Still, what role remained uncertain with two-way standout Jac Caglianone back and Brandon Neely, last year's closer and a former starter, returning. Toss talented freshman right-hander Liam Peterson into the mix, and O'Sullivan had to ponder the possibilities.

He met with Fisher during Florida's fall season to gauge Fisher's mindset about starting, something he did with enormous success in high school (17-1 career record with 300 strikeouts in 157 1/3 innings). O'Sullivan knew Fisher had the talent, but he wanted to see more.

"I felt like there was a certain point during the fall that Cade kind of felt very comfortable being part of the group and kind of blending in,'' O'Sullivan said Tuesday. "I was just frank and honest with him, 'Hey man, if you're going to be a Friday night starter, you've got to be different. You've got to carry yourself different, your work ethic has got to be different, you gotta be a leader. Everything has got to be a little bit sharper.'

"And not that he wasn't, but it was just a challenge to him. 'First of all, do you want this role? If you do, you're going to have to ramp things up a little bit. You're not coming out of the pen. You're not just one of the three or four guys we're trusting out of the pen. This is a different role, so if you want this, some things are going to have to be a little bit more precise and a bit more urgency.' He answered the bell for sure."

Opening Day, Friday Night Starter: Cade Fisher Flashed Signs Near End of Freshman Season - Florida Gators (1)

Fisher's first start is scheduled Opening Day against St. John's on Friday, followed by Peterson on Saturday and Caglianone on Sunday. While Caglianone is the most experienced of the trio, O'Sullivan seeks to keep him fresh offensively for the first two games of a weekend series and then start him on the mound on Sundays.

Meanwhile, Fisher has an opportunity to set the tone if he can spin consistently strong outings on Fridays.

"I've been throwing a lot more,'' Fisher said. "Building my arm up. In high school, I was always a starter, so it's not like a new thing for me. Last year was more like a new thing, being in the bullpen. I build myself for more endurance.

"I like it a lot more. Everybody wants to be a starter."

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound product of Northwest Whitfield High in northwest Georgia, Fisher went 6-0 with a 3.10 ERA over 49 1/3 innings as a freshman. He was at his best when the Gators made a run to their first appearance in the CWS in five years.

Competition under pressure comes naturally to Fisher, whose older brother, Ty Fisher, is a fifth-year senior left-hander at Georgia Southern. Ty, three years older than Cade, has been Georgia Southern's Friday night starter for the past two years. They grew up in an athletic family. Their father, Chad Fisher, is a former football player at Mars Hill (N.C.) University and longtime high school coach, and their mom, Cecilia Ramsey Fisher, is a former star basketball player at Tennessee Tech who is a member of the school's hall of fame.

"I kind of grew up in his shadow,'' Fisher said of his older brother. "We kind of got to the same age where our skill level was about the same. He talked to me about some mental things to work on. Then my dad, with being a coach, we kind of grew up in a household where athletics were pretty important."

Fisher has worked on developing a changeup to add to his repertoire as a starter, having learned that hitters in the Southeastern Conference are more challenging to retire than those he faced in high school. Still, the recipe for success remains the same as his first season: throw strikes and get quick outs.

He has embraced O'Sullivan's challenge to be a tone-setter on and off the mound.

"I hold myself to a very high standard,'' he said. "I had some good parts of last year, and I also had some pretty bad parts. It's figuring out a way to stay at a level of consistency. In high school, I could just blow 91 by somebody. It's a little different here. I still have the same mentality. Just trying to go out there and embarrass somebody, really, get an out as quick as I can."

Added O'Sullivan: "We wouldn't pitch him on Friday nights if he hadn't made that jump."

Fisher's first leap came near the end of last season and landed him an Opening Day assignment.

Fisher pitched not only like he was comfortable on the postseason stage but also like he could be a piece of the puzzle for a potential return to Omaha in 2024. O'Sullivan kept handing him the ball.

That was a sure sign.

"He showed confidence in me and helped me build my own confidence in myself," Fisher said. "I've always been a confident person on the mound. I know what I can do."

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Opening Day, Friday Night Starter: Cade Fisher Flashed Signs Near End of Freshman Season - Florida Gators (2024)


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