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Friday February 17, 2012No. 1 Florida Downs No. 16 Cal State Fullerton In Season Opener, 7-3

Gainesville, Fla.

Before an Opening Night record crowd of 5,356 fans at McKethan Stadium on Friday, No. 1 Florida snapped a 3-3 tie with four runs in the seventh inning on its way to a 7-3 victory over No. 16 Cal State Fullerton in the 2012 debut for both squads.

 

Senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (1-for-3) belted a game-tying solo homer in the sixth and provided the Gators with an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh, junior reliever Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) threw 2.1 scoreless innings and had three strikeouts to pick up the win, while freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) (1-for-4) clubbed a home run on his first collegiate swing.

 

“First of all, I just want to thank our fans,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan acknowledged. “They were outstanding tonight, and obviously that makes a huge difference when you’re at home. I thought both teams played well. They have a young bullpen. It was the first time on the road for a few of their pitchers and was the first time they were on the mound in college baseball. They have a great team and are very well-coached. I knew this was not going to be easy. It was a great opening day.”

 

The Titans opened the scoring against junior righty Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) in the second inning. Sophomore Michael Lorenzen (2-for-4) led off with a double to the base of the wall in left field and was sacrificed to third on a bunt by junior Anthony Hutting. Senior Anthony Trajano’s grounder to second base was misplayed by freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.), as Lorenzen scored and Trajano was able to take second base on the play. Randall struck out freshman J.D. Davis and uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Trajano to third. The right-hander stranded the runner by having redshirt junior Austin Kingsolver (2-for-3) fly out to center field.

 

Florida answered in the home part of the inning on a two-out solo home run by Gushue. CSF junior Dylan Floro had set down the first five Gators of the contest before Gushue stepped to the plate and sent the righty’s initial pitch into the left-field bleachers. The rookie became the first UF player to homer on his first swing since Chris Freshcorn accomplished the feat on March 5, 2008, against Campbell. Current junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) homered in his collegiate at bat against USF on Feb. 19, 2010.  

 

“Taylor is a really neat kid,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s sharp, smart, a leader and he’s just quietly put himself in the position to be in the lineup. He didn’t have the fall to do that. He came to campus in January and has earned everything he’s got. It was awfully good to see his first swing be a home run.”

 

“Hitting a home run is nice, but winning the game is a lot better,” Gushue said. “That’s what’s important to everybody, that’s what is the best.”

 

Randall had a run of 10-consecutive Titans retired before Kingsolver sliced a two-out single into right field in the fifth. However, junior catcher Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) gunned down the runner attempting to steal second base to end the frame.

 

The Gators seized a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-out double by Turgeon. After senior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) poked a single with one down into center field and moved into scoring position with a two-out theft, Turgeon sent a fly ball just inside of the left-field line that bounced in for a two-bagger for his first collegiate hit to move Florida in front.

 

Cal State Fullerton plated two runs on three hits in the sixth to claim a 3-2 lead. Junior Casey Watkins started the inning with a ground-rule double that bounced over the right-field fence and junior Richy Pedroza followed with a single through the right side for runners on the corners. Freshman Derek Legg tied the game with a RBI grounder to second base and redshirt junior Carlos Lopez delivered a double to the corner in right field to put the Titans back on top. After Randall had Lorenzen ground out, he was replaced by Rodriguez. Over 5.2 innings, Randall gave up five hits and three runs, with one strikeout. A passed ball enabled Lopez to reach third but Rodriguez struck out junior pinch hitter Ivory Thomas to keep the Gators down by a run.

 

Tucker knotted the game at 3-3 in the home part of the frame with a line-drive homer to right field underneath the brand new video-board. It was the 42nd homer and the 209th RBI of his Gator career, moving him closer to Brad Wilkerson’s school-record total of 214. Tucker also had a big fly in the season opener in 2011 against USF.

 

Freshman Jose Cardona (0-1) took over for Floro prior to UF’s seventh at bat after Fullerton’s starter yielded five hits and three runs, with four strikeouts and a walk, over six full innings. Soon after, the Gators erupted for four runs on three hits and two walks to grab a 7-3 lead. Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) legged out an infield single with one down for his first collegiate hit and Turgeon and junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) earned consecutive walks to load the bases and prompt a pitching change. Freshman Koby Gauna plunked senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) to bring across Tobias with the go-ahead run and a sacrifice fly by Tucker into right field scored Turgeon for a 5-3 lead for the hosts. Zunino stroked an RBI single up the middle to drive in Fontana and junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (2-for-4) expanded Florida’s advantage to 7-3 with a base-knock into right field that brought home Pigott and forced another call to the bullpen. Junior Dave Birosak replaced Gauna (0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R) and induced an inning-ending fly-out by Gushue.

 

Rodriguez tossed 2.1 innings of scoreless ball and recorded three strikeouts before turning the ball over to senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) for the ninth. The righty notched the final three outs, allowing one hit with a game-ending strikeout, to secure the win. The Gators held an 8-7 advantage in hits and their bullpen twirled 3.1 scoreless innings.

 

Saturday’s matchup at 4 p.m. will have sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (8-1, 2.40 in 2011) pitching for the Gators against Titans’ redshirt freshman right-hander Grahamm Wiest. The game will be carried on WRUF SportsRadio 850 and can be viewed on GatorVision Online.

         

Game Notes

·         The Gators started a trio of freshmen on Opening Night: Taylor Gushue (designated hitter), Josh Tobias (third base) and Casey Turgeon (second base) and all three registered their first collegiate hits.

·         The crowd of 5,356 spectators marked the 25th time since McKethan Stadium opened in 1988 that the Gators drew in excess of 5,000 fans.

·         The previous top Opening Night crowd at McKethan Stadium was 5,169 spectators for the Gators’ 7-4 victory over Miami (Fla.) on Feb. 6, 1999.

·         The Gators improved to 57-40-1 (.587) on opening day, including 37-20-1 (.647) at home.

·         Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan improved to 5-0 in season openers.

·         Hudson Randall did not have any wild pitches in 124.1 innings pitched last season.

·         Tyler Thompson recorded Florida’s first stolen base of the season in fifth inning.

·         The Gators completed their first double play of the campaign in the top of the ninth (5-4-3).

·         Greg Larson struck out Cal State Fullerton’s Matt Chapman to complete the game.

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