GatorZone.com Senior Writer
OMAHA, Neb. – Gators freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson has already crossed about everything there is to cross off on his list of firsts.
Whitson made his collegiate debut at home against USF in February. He made his first road start at LSU in March. He started in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. And he’s already pitched in the College World Series.
Next up for Whitson is his first career start with the Gators’ season on the line. He’ll take the mound in Game 2 tonight against South Carolina trying to keep Florida’s season alive.
Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan has no concerns about handing the ball to a freshman in the latest biggest game of the season.
“He’s pitched in big games all year long,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He pitched in the SEC. That’s what prepares you for these types of starts.’’
Whitson limited Vanderbilt to four hits and one run – he struck out five and walked one – in Florida’s 3-1 win over the Commodores on June 20. In 18 starts, Whitson is 8-0 with a 2.43 ERA.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on him,’’ O’Sullivan said. “I’m not going to tell him he has to go five, six, seven innings. We’re going to let him go as hard as he can for as long as he can. When we get in trouble, we’ll go to the pen.’’
JOHNSON AVAILABLE TO PITCH
The last time we saw sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson pitch was a month ago today in the SEC Tournament. A concussion knocked him out of action for three weeks until he returned to the lineup as the designated hitter in the CWS.
O’Sullivan said to expect to see Johnson return to the mound in Game 2 against South Carolina. That’s fine with Johnson, who opened the season as Florida’s No. 1 starter.
In 15 starts, Johnson is 8-3 with a 3.66 ERA.
“I hope to take off right where I left off,’’ Johnson said. “I’ve been facing hitters throughout the week and got hot [warmed up] in the Vanderbilt game and got hot in [Monday’s] game. I’m just ready to go out there and contribute to the team on the mound.’’
O’Sullivan plans to have everyone available on Tuesday.
“Obviously all our relievers were used on a short stint [Monday], so we’ll do everything we need to do to hopefully win,’’ he said.
SULLY NOT WORRIED ABOUT ZUNINO
Mike Zunino’s throwing error on Christian Walker’s stolen-base attempt led to Walker coming home to score the winning run Monday in the top of the 11th inning.
Walker trotted home when Gators outfielder Bryson Smith retrieved Zunino’s high throw to second and tried to throw out Walker at third. Smith’s throw bounced into the stands in what turned into a rare two-error play for the Gators.
Compounding Zunino’s throwing error is that he is 3-for-16 (.188) at the plate in the CWS, a big drop in production for the SEC Player of the Year. Despite his struggles, O’Sullivan remains confident in his sophomore catcher.
“Mike has nothing to hang his head about,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He’s been one of our best players – if not our best player – all year long. I know he feels terrible, but that’s baseball. He’s mature enough. He’ll be able to bounce back.’’
NO HEAD GAMES
Asked after Monday night’s game about South Carolina’s late decision to insert Walker into the lineup, O’Sullivan said he didn’t feel deceived by Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner.
In the initial lineup handed out in the press box, Walker was not in the lineup after breaking a bone in his left wrist against Virginia on Friday. However, Walker looked impressive in batting practice and was later put into the lineup, doubling his first time at-bat.
“I didn’t take it that way at all,’’ O’Sullivan said. “I don’t think it was anything misleading. I just think he probably made a decision at the last minute. Personally, I’m glad he played, because I think he’s one of those kids for them that he’s the main reason why they’re here.
“We’ve got a great deal of respect for him.”
QUOTE OF NOTE
“I had one of those weird intuitions that the ball was going to get hit to me, honestly, and I was just ready to make an accurate throw and try to get it in the air and make it have a close chance for a play. Sure enough, it was hit to me and I got a good throw on it.’’ – South Carolina OF Jake Williams on throwing out Cody Dent at the plate to end the bottom of the 10th.
According to research by the NCAA, South Carolina tied the record for most consecutive NCAA Tournament wins with Monday’s 2-1 victory over the Gators. South Carolina won its 15th consecutive tournament game, matching Texas’ streak in 1983-84.
Following the Gamecocks’ win over Virginia on Friday, the NCAA believed South Carolina had broken the 13-game NCAA Tournament win streak LSU had in 1997-98. However, additional research revealed the Longhorns’ streak set when Roger Clemens starred for Texas.
Gators starter Hudson Randall allowed one run or fewer in 10 of his 19 starts, including Monday’s no-decision … South Carolina’s bullpen is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 17.2 innings at the CWS; Overall the Gamecocks’ bullpen is 6-0 with four saves and a 0.56 ERA in 32.1 innings in nine NCAA Tournament games … Florida was 46-0 when leading after seven innings prior to Monday’s loss … The Gators committed three errors on Monday, only the fifth time they have had three or more errors this season. In their first three games at the CWS, they committed just three errors.