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Saturday May 11, 2013 Crawford remains Gators' most dangerous weapon if he can stay away from walks

Updated: 9:39am, May 11

Jonathon Crawford

Starter Jonathon Crawford didn't have his best start Friday but remains crucial to UF's postseason bid. 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was Senior Night on Friday at McKethan Stadium.

The weather was perfect, the hot dogs fresh and the mood upbeat for the start of Florida's final regular-season home series of the season.

Before the game, Gators seniors Cody Dent and Vickash Ramjit were presented framed jerseys during an on-field ceremony with their families. Ramjit may have set a school record for largest Senior Day portrait as nearly two dozen family members joined the veteran first baseman during the ceremony.

They were all smiles, adding to the festive atmosphere.

The Gators also had right-hander Jonathon Crawford on the mound, which always offers the potential of seeing something special.

As Crawford warmed up Friday, I couldn't help but think back to last spring when he tossed a no-hitter in the NCAA Tournament to beat Bethune-Cookman. I wondered if Crawford's right arm might have some similar magic in it as he prepared to make his final home start of the season and potentially the last one of his UF career.

Crawford was on early, striking out two of the first four batters he faced.

In what has been a roller-coaster season for the junior from Okeechobee, Crawford remains the biggest game-changer on the young Gators' roster. If Crawford is locating his pitches and firing strikes, Florida's postseason chances improve dramatically.

If he's not, well, there's a big chance you'll see what transpired in Friday's 7-4 loss to Auburn.

Crawford and Auburn lefty Connor Kendrick were locked in a pitcher's duel in a scoreless game in the fourth. Auburn's Garrett Cooper led off the inning with a single, but Crawford then got cleanup hitter Patrick Savage to ground into a double play.

He looked ready to finish the Tigers off in the inning as Dan Glevenyak stepped to the plate.

"He started out strong,'' Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. "He was aggressive and then just kind of got unaggressive and started feeling for it instead of raring back and firing it."

Glevenyak reached on an infield single, which didn't set off any alarms. All Crawford needed to do was retire Jordan Ebert and he would be back in the dugout. He then walked Ebert on four pitches, which raised some eyebrows.

Still, Crawford got ahead of Auburn center fielder Ryan Tella and appeared primed to make a big pitch to escape any damage.

Tella didn't cooperate, drilling Crawford's 2-2 pitch high over the net beyond the right-field wall and onto Stadium Road.

One pitch, three runs.

Dameck Tomscha followed with a single before Crawford finally got Blake Austin to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.

The damage was done, though, and when Crawford walked Hunter Kelley to lead off the fifth, Gators skipper Kevin O'Sullivan had seen enough.

Crawford's final line: 4 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (all earned), three walks, three strikeouts and 76 pitches. Crawford dropped to 3-6 with a 4.52 ERA.

"The bottom line is you've got to command pitches and throw the ball as close as you can to the mitt and good things will happen,'' O'Sullivan said. "The walk before the three-run homer probably hurt him more than anything."

Free passes have been a sore spot all season for Crawford, who has walked 33 in 73 2/3 innings (4 per 9 innings). A year ago when Crawford went 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA, he walked just 24 in 77 2/3 innings (2.78 per 9 innings).

The Gators (27-24, 12-13) dropped a game below .500 in the SEC with Friday's loss, their fifth consecutive defeat in conference play. With five regular-season games remaining -- two more at home against Auburn this weekend and three at Georgia next week -- Florida needs all the wins it can get to enhance its postseason possibilities.

Crawford will have another chance against the Bulldogs before the Gators head to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament.

At the start of the season, there's probably not many who would have bet Florida would be three games over .500 this late in the season with Crawford three games below.

But that's where they are down the home stretch.

And everyone knows that if the Gators are to going to keep playing deep into the spring, Crawford likely will have a starring role.

"I mean, he beat Cuba, so he can beat anybody,'' said Gushue, referring to Crawford's dominant summer (3-0, 2.10 ERA) for the USA College National Team.

Cuba isn't anywhere on the Gators' schedule, but the Gators will take a win from Crawford at Georgia next weekend and hope there's more to come.

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