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Friday March 9, 2012Zunino's Two Homers Lift No. 1 Baseball Past FGCU, 4-2

Gainesville, Fla.

Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) had a game-tying homer in the sixth and delivered a two-run shot with two outs in the eighth to help No. 1 Florida (13-1) defeat Florida Gulf Coast (6-6), 4-2, in the opener of a weekend series on Friday night at McKethan Stadium. Zunino’s third multiple-homer outing of the season increased the Gators’ winning streak to 11 games.


It was great pitcher’s duel, as Florida junior Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (7.1 IP, 6 H, 6 K) and FGCU sophomore Ricky Knapp (7.0 IP, 5 H) each allowed a pair of runs courtesy of a round-tripper. Junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (3-0) entered the game with an Eagle runner aboard with one down in the eighth and Zunino gunned down sophomore Brandon Bednar attempting to steal second with a perfect strike to freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) and Rodriguez fanned senior Ryan Gebhart to preserve the stalemate.


In the home part of the inning, freshman righty Brady Anderson (1-1) took over on the mound and recorded the first two outs before senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) stroked a single into right field. Tucker’s 276th hit as a collegian matched David Eckstein (1994-97) for third on the school’s career list. Zunino stepped to the plate and smacked a 1-2 offering deep to left field for his team-leading seventh homer to move the Orange and Blue in front for the first time in the contest.


“It was one of those where he (Tucker) is a great batter in front of me and I know he's going to battle,” Zunino said. “He did a great job of fighting in the count and getting a ball he could handle right on the corner. I got the two strikes and tried to barrel a ball up, and was lucky to get a slider a little bit up.”


With FGCU down to its last three outs, junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) caught sophomore Sean Dwyer looking on strikes and then surrendered a pinch-hit single into left field to junior Mike Reeves. However, the Gator closer rebounded to strike out junior Dane Wisneski and sophomore Andrew Valencia (2-for-4) to collect his fourth save and secure UF’s eighth come-from-behind victory of the season.


“This was a heck of a college baseball game tonight,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought both starting pitchers were outstanding. Hudson Randall threw probably the best he’s thrown all year. He was really, really sharp and you have got to give credit to Ricky Knapp. He was outstanding tonight as well. He mixed pitches, moved the ball back and forth and he made a lot of big pitches all night long. Both starting pitchers need to be commended for a great game. There was one walk from both clubs and one error the whole night, both teams threw strikes, both teams played great defense and unfortunately, someone had to lose this game.”


With the game scoreless, Valencia belted a two-run homer with two down in the fourth to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. Dwyer started the frame with a base-hit up the middle before Randall retired the next two hitters. Valencia then connected on his first homer to left field to break the ice.


Zunino evened the game in the sixth with a two-run bomb. Senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) had started the inning with a single into center field and went to second on a grounder by Tucker before Zunino roped a 1-0 pitch from Knapp over the left-field fence.


Freshman Zack Tillery had a one-out infield single for FGCU in the seventh but Randall had freshman Michael Suchy hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.


“It was my fourth start,” Randall said. “I'm just getting back to where I was last year, my arm is feeling good. I felt stronger as the game went on, and we are really coming together as a team. We were struggling through the first few innings and we were hitting balls hard, but they weren't falling for us. We never gave up, so I'm proud of the effort from all of the guys. It's a great team win. Although I think I could have finished the game, we have a bullpen for a reason. Paco (Steven Rodriguez) came in and got a strikeout, Mike (Zunino) threw somebody out, and Austin (Maddox) had three strikeouts in the end. When you have guys like that, you have to use them.”


Each team finished with seven hits. The Gators and Eagles will meet again tomorrow at 4 p.m., with junior left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (1-0, 3.95) facing FGCU sophomore southpaw Brandon Bixler (2-1, 1.02).


Game Notes

·         The Gators now lead the all-time series with FGCU, 4-1, including 3-1 at McKethan Stadium.

·         Mike Zunino’s two homers give him 35 for his career, one shy of Mark Ellis (1996-99) and Mario Linares (1988-91) for sixth on the school’s all-time list.

·         Nolan Fontana’s eight-game hitting streak ended with a 0-for-3 performance but he drew a walk to increase his team-leading total to nine free passes on the season.

·         Tyler Thompson’s stolen base in the fifth inning matched Fontana for the team lead with four thefts.

·         Tonight marked the first time this season that the Gators have been held scoreless through the first five innings. Prior to tonight, the latest the Gators have scored was in the fourth during the second game of both the Cal State Fullerton and Miami (Fla.) series.

·         Hudson Randall’s 7.1 innings was the longest stint by a Gator starter this season.

·         The Gators improved to 7-0 this season when their opponents score first.



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