Sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) drove in three runs and Florida (49-16) scored in each of the first five innings to defeat Mississippi State (37-24), 11-1, in the opening game of the best-of-three NCAA Gainesville Super Regional on Friday afternoon at McKethan Stadium. Game two will be on Saturday at noon and be shown nationally on ESPN, with the Gators needing one more victory to punch the program’s seventh ticket to the NCAA College World Series.
Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (10-3) held the Bulldogs scoreless into the seventh inning and was supported by a balanced offense that plated four runs in the first, two in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth and one in the fifth to build a 10-run cushion. Over eight full innings, his longest stint in NCAA play, Randall registered a season-high eight strikeouts, scattered six hits and permitted one run.
“This time of the year, it’s all about momentum and how you handle momentum, how you gain momentum and hold onto it,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I am really proud of the way we played today offensively; it might have been one of our better offensive days in awhile. I know we have been swinging the bat really good but to not have any giveaway innings was key. I thought we were just outstanding. Hudson Randall just did what he has been doing all year long and pitched deep into the ballgame, saving our (bull)pen.”
Zunino (2-for-4, three RBI, two runs) and junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (1-for-5) each drove in two runs as the Gators jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Bulldog freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell (6-2). Sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (1-for-4, two runs, two RBI) drew a leadoff walk, senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (3-for-5, two runs) followed with a single into center field to extend his hitting streak to eight games and junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) earned a free pass to load the bases. Zunino dropped a flare into left field to bring across Fontana and Smith and Mitchell responded with a strikeout of senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) for the first out. Thompson collected his sixth double of the campaign into right center to clear the bases for a four-run margin.
Randall struck out the first two Bulldogs in the second before yielding back-to-back single to redshirt junior Brent Brownlee and senior Jonathan Ogden. The right-hander responded with a punch-out of senior Wes Thigpen to end the inning, bringing his total to five K.
Fontana belted his fifth homer with sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) aboard in the bottom of the frame to give UF a 6-0 advantage. Dent (1-for-1, two runs, two walks) had drawn a one-out walk and Fontana sent an 0-1 offering over the right-field fence for his first round-tripper since May 28 against Georgia in the SEC Tourney. It was first home run surrendered by Mitchell this season.
Zunino started the home part of the third inning with his team-leading 17th homer over the left-field, ending the afternoon for Mitchell (2.0 IP, 5 H, 7 R). Adams greeted junior reliever Devin Jones with a base-hit through the left side before Thompson flew out. Adams was erased at second base on a fielder’s choice by junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (1-for-4, two runs) and redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) grounded out to complete the frame.
The Gators expanded their lead to 9-0 in the fourth on RBI singles by Smith and Adams. Dent began the inning with his second walk of the afternoon and moved into scoring position on a grounder by Fontana. Smith’s second hit of the contest brought in Dent and he took second on the relay throw to the plate. Tucker popped out in foul territory, advancing Smith to third, and Zunino drew a two-out walk for runners on the corners. Adams delivered a single into left field to bring in Smith.
Dent’s first sacrifice fly of the season drove in Pigott in the fifth for a 10-0 lead. Pigott had led off by reaching on a two-base fielding error by Ogden and went to third on a grounder by Ramjit. Dent picked up his fifth RBI of the season with a fly ball to center field off sophomore Kendall Graveman to score Pigott.
Redshirt senior Jarrod Parks (2-for-4) began the sixth with a single and senior Nick Vickerson followed with a double into left field. Senior Jaron Shepherd put the Bulldogs on the board with an RBI grounder and Randall countered with a strikeout of freshman pinch hitter Adam Frazier and had Brownlee fly out to left field to strand Vickerson on third base.
Pigott homered for the first time since April 2 against Tennessee with one down in the seventh to finalize the scoring. His solo shot landed in the left-field bleachers. Freshman Keenan Kish (Worcester, Pa.) had a pair of strikeouts in a scoreless ninth to end the game.Florida held an 11-7 advantage and did not commit any errors.
Gator freshman Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (8-0, 2.42) will make the start tomorrow against MSU junior southpaw Nick Routt (3-3, 3.78).
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· Today’s game marked just the third time in history that two SEC squads squared off in the NCAA Super Regional.
· Today’s meeting between the two schools was the first in the NCAA Tournament since Mississippi State defeated Florida, 14-13, at the 1998 College World Series (second overall).
· Florida made its third-straight Super Regional appearance and the fifth in school history (all in the past eight seasons).
· The Gators’ 49 wins are third-most in school history, one shy of the 1996 College World Series squad (50-18) and two short of the school-record 1991 CWS team (51-21).
· Florida is now one win away from making consecutive College World Series appearances for the first time in school history.
· The Gators have won nine-straight contests at home in NCAA play, improving to 34-9 (.791) on its own turf during NCAA play.
· Kevin O’Sullivan bettered his home NCAA record to 12-2 (.857) and improved to 123-25 (.831) at home during his four-year tenure.
· Florida’s skipper improved to 7-1 against Mississippi State, including a perfect 4-0 in Gainesville.
· UF improved to 33-6 (.846) at home this season.
· The Gators have now won seven of the last eight against the Bulldogs.
· UF has now won eight of its nine openers in home weekend series this season
· Over the first three innings of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Florida has outscored its opponents, 34-1. Florida is averaging 8.5 runs in the first three innings of the NCAA Tournament after averaging 2.2 runs in the first three frames in its first 61 games of the season.
· SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino improved to 6-11(.545) this season with the bases loaded, including 18 RBI and two grand slams. During the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore catcher is hitting .467 (7-for-15) with seven runs, six RBI, two home runs and two doubles. Against Mississippi State this season (five games), the Johnny Bench Award finalist is .477 (10-for-21) with nine runs, nine RBI, two home runs and two doubles.
· Over his last four games, junior left fielder Tyler Thompson is 8-for-18 (.444) with six RBI, four runs and three doubles.
· Senior center fielder Bryson Smith extended his career-high hitting streak to game games. During the streak, Smith is batting .529 (18-for-34) with nine runs, six RBI and three doubles.
· Senior second baseman Josh Adams is now one start away from tying Mario Linares (247, 1988-91) for the school record for games played. In five games against MSU this season, Adams is 9-for-23 (.391) with three runs and three RBI.
· Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall improved his career NCAA Tournament strikeout-to-walk ratio to 29-to-6.
· During the 2011 NCAA Tournament, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana is 6-for-20 (.300) with five RBI, five runs and a home run.
· Since the start of the SEC Tournament May 25th vs. Mississippi State (nine games), Cody Dent is 8-for-24 (.333) with 10 walks, four RBI and four runs.
· Junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott notched his first home run since April 2 vs. Tennessee with a solo shot to left in the bottom of the seventh. Pigott is batting .333 (6-for-18) with five RBI, five runs and a home run during this year’s NCAA Tournament.
· The Gators improved to 40-2 when out-hitting its foes.
· Mississippi State made its fourth Super Regional appearance in school history.
· Freshman outfielder C.T. Bradford extended his career-best hitting streak to 12 games and now has a hit in 25 of his last 29 games. Over his last three games, the freshman is 6-for-13 (.462) with five RBI, three runs and a double.
· Senior second baseman Nick Vickerson went 1-for-4, improving to 4-for-11 (.364) with three RBI and three doubles during the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Against Florida this season, the senior is 5-for-14 (.357) with three RBI, a double, triple and a home run.
· MSU starter Evan Mitchell has now struck out 26 batters in his last 19.1 innings pitched.
· Mitchell surrounded his first home run of the season in the second inning when Florida’s Nolan Fontana homered to right field.
· Senior third baseman Jarrod Parks, the SEC’s regular season batting champion (.383), went 2-for-4 today, giving him hits in 48 of his team’s 61 games this season (78.7 percent). The multi-hit game was Parks’ team-leading 10th on the season.
· In five games against Florida this season, season shortstop Jonathan Ogden is 5-for-17 (.294) with three RBI, three runs and two home runs.
· The Bulldogs’ eight-game NCAA Regional Tournament winning streak came to an end, suffering their first NCAA Regional Tournament loss since an 8-6 setback to Clemson in 2006.