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Sunday February 20, 2011No. 1 Baseball Completes Sweep Of USF, 5-0

Gainesville, Fla.

Four Gator pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout as No. 1 Florida (3-0) blanked USF (0-3), 5-0, in front of 3,852 fans at McKethan Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Making his collegiate debut, freshman Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (1-0) registered nine strikeouts, gave up one walk and allowed just a first-inning single over five scoreless frames to earn the win.

 

After yielding the base-hit to junior Sam Mende (3-for-4), the right-hander retired the next 11 Bulls he faced and notched five strikeouts in a row at one point. Whitson was followed to the hill by junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (1.2 IP, 1 H, 2 K), sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 K) and freshman Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) (1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 K). It was Florida’s first shutout of USF since Feb. 24, 1988, 7-0, in Gainesville, and the team’s first shutout since defeating Florida Atlantic, 15-0, on June 6, 2010, in the NCAA Gainesville Regional final. The Gators’ trio of starting pitchers this weekend, sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.), sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) and Whitson together surrendered one run over 17.0 innings, with 21 strikeouts and one walk.

 

“I was pleased with the way we came out today,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It was Sunday but the last game of a series is always the most difficult one. I thought it all started on the mound with Karsten (Whitson), he was outstanding. It’s hard because he’s 19 years old and there are a lot of expectations but I thought he handled it great all week. He did a very nice job today and I’m looking forward to getting him out there again.”

 

“Karsten threw some quality changeups today and that was a pitch he didn’t have coming into Florida,” O’Sullivan continued. “He commanded his slider much better and threw that for strikes a bunch. It was good to get his first start out of the way and we can build on that.”

 

“It felt good, I was really excited and just wanted to get out there and throw strikes,” Whitson said. “I’m thinking about keeping the ball low in the zone and throwing strikes and just letting my team behind me make plays. When you have guys like Nolan (Fontana) and (Josh) Adams behind you, all you’re worried about is trying to keep the ball low and hopefully they can put it in play for you. This is the reason, right here, why I came to school, to throw on this Gator uniform. To come out here and pitch was definitely a lot of fun.”

 

With the victory, the Gators also tied the school-record home-winning streak of 18 games originally set from March 16-May 13, 1963, and matched from Feb. 10-March 31, 1998. The three-game series drew 14,003 spectators, a record for an opening weekend at Florida and the second-highest total for a series in Gainesville behind the 14,619 for the Florida-Georgia series from May 14-16, 2010.

 

Whitson fanned the USF first batter he faced, freshman James Ramsay, and had senior Jonathan Koscso fly out before yielding a single to Mende. The right-hander ended the inning with a punch-out of redshirt junior Todd Brazeal.

 

Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) put the Gators on the board with a first-inning single up the middle off freshman Nick Gonzalez (0-1). Sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-3, two runs) had led off with a double down the right-field line, his eighth of nine hits on the weekend, and Tucker picked up his team-leading fourth RBI with a knock into center field.

 

Whitson notched two more strikeouts in the second and retired the Bulls in order. In the home part of the stanza, junior Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) drew a one-out walk from Gonzalez and moved into scoring position on a grounder by senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.). USF right fielder Ramsay made a diving stab of a line drive hit by junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-4, two RBI) to close the inning and keep the margin at 1-0.

 

UF managed consecutive two-out walks off Gonzalez in the third, as Tucker and sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) earned free passes. The southpaw worked out of the jam with a strikeout of Johnson, which was his final hitter of the afternoon. Over three innings, Gonzalez gave up two hits and a run, with four walks.

 

After Whitson struck out the side, sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-4) welcomed senior reliever Kyle Eastham with a lead-off homer into the left-field bleachers for a 2-0 Gator lead in the fourth. It was Zunino’s first hit of the campaign and first round-tripper since June 6 of last season against Florida Atlantic. After Smith stroked a one-out double just inside of the bag at third base, Pigott followed with a run-scoring single for a three-run advantage and took second base on the relay throw home. Fontana was plunked for a pair of runners aboard and a fly-out by Adams moved Pigott to third and left UF with runners on the corners and two down. Eastham had Tucker fly out to the warning track to keep the Bulls down by three.

 

Whitson set down11-consecutive USF batters, including five in a row by strikeout, before issuing a one-out walk to senior Junior Carlin in the fifth. The righty responded by having freshman Chad Taylor ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play to complete his action on the day.

 

Maddox delivered a sacrifice fly with the bases full in the sixth to increase the hosts’ margin to 4-0. Fontana continued his blistering weekend with a one-out single and raced over to third on Adams’ first double of the season and the Bulls elected to walk Tucker intentionally. Although Maddox collected his second sac fly of the year to right field, junior Matt Reed had Johnson ground out to strand a couple of runners.

 

“I’m just seeing the ball well,” Fontana said after going 9-for-12 (.750) over the three games. “I was fortunate, had a great weekend and want to keep it going. It felt good being able to play this weekend. “

 

Pigott came through with a two-out single through the right side in the seventh for a 5-0 cushion. Zunino had started things with a single off Reed but was forced at second base on a grounder by McMahan, who wound up on second base after a throwing error by redshirt junior Luis Llerena attempting to complete the double play. McMahan swiped third base and Pigott drove him in with his second hit of the day.

 

The Gators head to Jupiter, Fla., on Tuesday to face Florida Atlantic (3-0) at Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. The contest will be shown live in North and Central Florida on Fox Sports Florida at 6:30 p.m.

         

Game Notes

·         The Gators have now taken the last 11 meetings against USF.

·         Florida has swept its opening series all four years of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s tenure (2008: Siena, 2009: Louisville, 2010 & 2011, USF).

·         UF held a 16-3 scoring advantage on the weekend.

·         Over 27.0 innings, the Gator pitching staff gave up 22 hits and three runs for a 1.00 earned run average, totaling 31 strikeouts and permitting two walks.

·         Nolan Fontana was 9-for-12 (.750) with five runs and sported an on-base percentage of .786.

·         The Gators were 5-for-7 on stolen-base opportunities, while the Bulls did not attempt any.

·         UF used 11 different pitchers this weekend, including freshmen Jonathon Crawford, Daniel Gibson and Karsten Whitson.

·         Daniel Pigott started twice in the outfield and was 4-for-7 (.571) with three RBI.

·         Nine of Florida’s 33 hits in the series went for extra bases, with seven doubles and two homers.

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