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Saturday March 10, 2012No. 1 Florida Baseball Clinches Series With 8-3 Win Over FGCU

Gainesville, Fla.

No. 1 Florida (14-1) scored four runs in the first inning and junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (2-0) had a season-high six strikeouts over six innings in a series-clinching 8-3 victory over Florida Gulf Coast (6-7) on Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium. The Gators increased their winning streak to 12 games, two shy of the school-record stretch of 14 done twice (March 20-April 4, 2001, and Feb. 21-March 14, 2004).

 

Florida reached FGCU starter Brandon Bixler (2-2) for four runs in the first inning to take a 4-0 lead. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-3, two RBI, two runs) drew a leadoff walk, senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) was hit by a pitch and senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) earned a free pass to load the bases with none out. Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-5) drove in two runs with a first-pitch single into left field and freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) deposited a base-hit into center field to score Tucker. A fielder’s choice by freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) left runners on the corners with one down and junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (1-for-3) lofted a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home Zunino. The Gators’ total of four runs in the frame was their most to begin a game this season.

 

“We got help with some walks there in the first inning and I thought we capitalized on those walks and got to a 5-0 lead after two innings,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought we had a really good approach early on and it was a tough day to hit. The wind was blowing in and their pitchers, when those guys are not in the zone all the time, they’re not the easiest guys to hit. We did enough to win and obviously we have to do a better job in the middle innings offensively, but that five-run cushion there certainly helped us to win.”

 

“I thought overall it was a great outing for Brian Johnson. I thought he threw the ball really well and he was much more in control today. I thought his delivery was good, he was moving the ball back and forth and he threw his off-speed pitches for strikes. I think that was probably his best start of the year. He looked very comfortable.”

 

"To be honest, it probably felt the best so far,” Johnson said. “I'm trying to throw pitches for strikes, and work ahead in the count. I felt really confident out there today."

 

Tucker expanded Florida’s lead to 5-0 in the second with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to right field. Freshmen Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) and Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) drew consecutive walks and Fontana singled to right field to load the bases with none out. Bixler had Pigott pop up in foul territory and Tucker followed with his second sac fly of the year to score Turgeon. Bixler stranded the runners by having Zunino ground out.

 

Senior Ryan Gebhart (2-for-4, two runs) opened the fourth with a double into left field and went to third on a grounder by sophomore Andrew Valencia. Sophomore Sean Dwyer put the Eagles on the board with an RBI grounder that Tobias prevented from being an infield hit with a great throw to first base. Johnson then had junior Tito Mendoza fly out to end the inning.

 

The Gators answered in the bottom of the stanza when Tobias stole home for his second theft of the inning to give the hosts a 6-1 lead. With one down, Tobias was plunked and Fontana earned his second walk of the game before the Gators executed a double steal for the third time this season to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Although Pigott drew a walk to fill the bags and Tucker popped up beyond third base in foul territory for the second out, Tobias was able to score when FGCU junior catcher Mike Reeves went to talk to Bixler and did not call time, leaving home unoccupied.

 

Bixler allowed six runs on three hits, with six walks, two hit batters and one strikeout, over four innings and was replaced by junior Andrew Polly. The left-hander had entered the contest with a 1.02 earned run average.

 

FGCU narrowed the gap to 6-3 on Valencia’s two-run homer in the sixth. Gebhart had singled with one down and Valencia sent a 2-2 pitch over the right-field fence for his second round-tripper of the season and the series. Johnson answered with his season-best sixth strikeout of Dwyer and had Mendoza fly out to end the inning.

 

Johnson departed after six full innings in which he gave up five hits and three runs, with six K and zero walks. Reeves greeted senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) with a base-hit up the middle to start the seventh and advanced to second on a grounder by freshman Zack Tillery. Freshman Michael Suchy was hit by a pitch for two runners aboard and Larson worked out of trouble by having junior Dane Wisneski ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

 

After Tobias poked a one-out single, Fontana belted a two-run homer off Polly in the eighth to finalize the margin at 8-3. It was Fontana’s third dinger of the campaign and cleared the right-field fence. Larson threw two scoreless innings, with two strikeouts and one hit, before sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) retired the Eagles in order in the ninth to nail down the victory.

 

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) (1-1, 6.94) will oppose FGCU senior righty Jason Forjet (0-1, 2.50) in tomorrow’s finale at 1 p.m. that will be carried live on Sun Sports.

 

Game Notes

·         Florida improved to 11-1 at McKethan Stadium this season.

·         Junior Brian Johnson’s six strikeouts were his most since registering six against Kentucky on May 19, 2011.

·         Junior Austin Maddox now has two sacrifice flies this season.

·         With freshman Josh Tobias’ theft of home, the Gators have stolen home twice this year, as Tyler Thompson accomplished the feat at Miami (Fla.) on March 2.

·         Florida was 3-for-4 on the basepaths this afternoon, as Tobias was 2-for-2.

·         Senior Greg Larson made the 94h appearance of his career, two behind Josh Edmondson (2005-08) for fifth on the school’s all-time list.

·         Junior Nolan Fontana drew a pair of walks and raised his team-leading total to 11 free passes on the season.

·         Fontana’s two-run bomb in the eighth was the third-consecutive two-run homer for the Gators.

·         The Gators matched their run total from last night (four) in the opening frame.

·         Today marked the eighth game the season in which the Gators did not commit an error and the team has a 7-1 record in those outings.

·         Six different Gators were walked today, as they tied their season high of eight walks.

·         Sophomore Daniel Gibson has not allowed any runs in 5.2 innings covering six appearances this year.

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