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Thursday May 19, 2011No. 4 Florida takes Opener Over Kentucky, 9-6

Gainesville, Fla.

Florida sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) cranked a pair of homers and drove in five runs to lead No. 4 Florida (40-14/21-7 SEC) to a 9-6 victory over Kentucky (24-29/7-21 SEC) in the series opener between the Eastern Division rivals on Thursday night at McKethan Stadium. UF’s victory, coupled with losses by No. 2 South Carolina (2-1 at Alabama) and No. 3 Vanderbilt (5-4 at Georgia), puts head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s club in first place on top of the league standings with two games remaining in the regular season. 


Zunino (3-for-4) belted a solo shot in the third inning that tied the game at 4-4 and connected on a three-run jack with two down in sixth to move the Gators in front, 7-5. He now has a team-leading 15 homers, including five in the past three games, and increased his team-high RBI total to 58. Sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) worked six innings, giving up seven hits and five runs (four earned), with six strikeouts and one walk to pick up the win, while sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) recorded the final three outs to collect his third save.


“What can you say about Mike Zunino?” O’Sullivan said. “He keeps swinging the bat like the leader of a ballclub and came up with some big home runs. I was proud of the way we fought back tonight, this time of the year you have to focus on the positives. I thought that Brian Johnson’s start, other than the third (inning), went well. He gave up one run over six innings, minus the third inning, so we’re going to focus on those other five innings.”


UF tallied three runs on four hits in the second inning against UK sophomore lefty Taylor Rogers (3-7) to build a 3-0 lead. Maddox (2-for-4) led off with a base-hit into left field and junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) followed with a single into right field for runners on the corners. After redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) (1-for-3, two runs) drove in Maddox with a single between first and second base, freshman Zack Powers (Seffner, Fla.) moved his teammates into scoring position with his fourth sacrifice bunt of the season. Senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (2-for-3, two runs) collected his second hit of the night with a one-out RBI single up the middle that brought across Pigott and sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (1-for-3, two RBI) lofted his team-leading sixth sacrifice fly to center field to score Ramjit.


The Wildcats used a bases-clearing triple by junior Chad Wright (2-for-4, three RBI) and an RBI single by junior Thomas McCarthy (3-for-4, two RBI) to seize a 4-3 lead in the third. Freshman Lucas Witt had a one-out single that ricocheted off Johnson’s hand and redshirt senior Neiko Johnson earned a free pass before a throwing error by Powers on a grounder hit by senior Taylor Black loaded the bases. Wright smoked a triple into the right-field corner to even the contest and McCarthy followed with an RBI single into left field to move UK in front.


In the bottom of the frame, Zunino led off with his team-leading 14th homer to knot the game at 4-4. The blast to left field on Rogers’ first pitch marked Zunino’s third-straight game with a big fly. With one down, senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) drew a walk and Maddox was hit by a pitch for a pair of Gators aboard. Rogers jammed Pigott on a pop-up and had a fielder’s choice by Ramjit force Adams at third base to end the inning.


Kentucky reclaimed the lead at 6-5 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly into center field by sophomore Luke Maile after a leadoff triple down the right-field line by McCarthy.


Zunino came through with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to put Florida on top, 7-5. Ramjit started things off by reaching on a throwing error by McCarthy and was sacrificed to second by Powers. Smith was plunked for a couple of runners on base and Rogers had Fontana fly out. Zunino battled back from a 0-2 count and delivered a three-run round-tripper into the left-field bleachers for his fifth homer in the past three games and his third multiple-homer game of the campaign.


Junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) took over for Johnson (6.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 6 K, 1 BB) prior to the seventh and retired the first two batters on a strikeout and a fly-out . Powers committed a fielding error and then a throwing error on a ball hit by Black to extend the inning and Wright earned a walk. McCarthy narrowed the gap to 7-6 with a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield that scored Black and Larson responded with an inning-ending strikeout of Maile to strand the runners.


In the home part of the inning, Maddox had a one-out single and moved into scoring position on a grounder by Pigott. Wright robbed Johnson of a potential RBI single with a diving catch in left field to complete the frame.


Florida tacked on a pair of runs in the eighth for a 9-6 margin. Sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) began the frame with a single up the middle and went to second on a wild pitch. Smith laid down a sacrifice bunt to push Dent to third and reached on a fielding error by Rogers for runners on the corners and none out. Senior Mike Kaczmarek was summoned from the bullpen to replace Rogers (7.0 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 5 ER) and yielded an RBI single into right field to Fontana, who extended his hitting streak to eight games. Zunino increased UF’s advantage to three runs with a base-knock into center field and Tucker laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Fontana and Zunino into scoring position. Redshirt senior Nick Kennedy came in for Kaczmarek (0.1 IP, 2 H) and had a fielder’s choice by Adams result in the second out, as Fontana was caught in a run-down long enough for Adams to take second base. With two men in scoring position, Kennedy had Maddox fly out to center field.


After Larson (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 K) issued a walk to Witt to open the ninth, Maddox moved from first base to the mound and set down the next three Wildcats to end the contest. Florida held a 12-8 advantage in hits and the teams combined for five errors.


Friday’s matchup at 7 p.m. will feature sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (8-2, 2.14) against Kentucky junior right-hander Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06). Randall is seeking his first victory since April 29 after falling at Arkansas (7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 5 K) and getting a no-decision at Vanderbilt in his last start (5.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K). The righty is 6-2 with a 2.59 ERA in league activity, with 25 strikeouts and five walks in a team-high 59 innings. A projected top-10 pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, Meyer leads the SEC in strikeouts (101), innings pitched (94), complete games (four) and complete-game shutouts (two).


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Game Notes

  • Florida won its 40th game for the 20th time in school history and the third-consecutive season. The last time the Orange and Blue had three-straight 20-win seasons was 1996-98, when UF advanced to the College World Series twice (’96, ’98).
  • The Gators are now one win shy of tying the school record for most regular-season wins (41 in 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998). Florida advanced to the College World Series in three of the previous four 41-win seasons (’91, ’96, ’98).
  • In his last three games, Mike Zunino is batting .545 (6-for-11) with 12 RBI, five runs and five home runs. He is now 6-for-14 (.429) against Kentucky in four career games with six RBI, five runs and three home runs.
  • Nolan Fontana extended his team-high eight-game hitting streak and is now batting .414 (12-for-29) over the stretch with six runs and five RBI.
  • Josh Adams is batting .333 (12-for-36) in 10 career games against Kentucky with nine RBI, eight runs, two doubles and a home run.
  • In three-game series this season, Florida went 11-3 in the opening game of the series.
  • The Gators improved to 70-22 all-time against the Wildcats in Gainesville.
  • In four career games against the Wildcats, Austin Maddox is 9-for-17 (.529) with six runs, five RBI and three home runs.
  • Florida bettered its mark to 31-0 when leading after six innings.
  • Kevin O’Sullivan’s home record improved to 118-24 (.952).
  • Josh Adams tied Brian Duva’s (1991-94) school record with his 234th game started. Adams’ walk in the bottom of the third tied him for ninth on the school’s all-time list with Gator great Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05).
  • The Gator pitching staff has struck out 35 batters in its last three contests.
  • Greg Larson gave up his first run for the first time April 12 at Florida State.
  • Bryson Smith had his first multi-hit game in SEC play since April 29 versus Ole Miss.
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