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Tuesday March 13, 2012No. 1 Baseball Takes First Encounter With No. 6 Florida State, 9-2; Matches School Record With 14th-Straight Win

Gainesville, Fla.

In front of a record crowd of 6,005 fans at McKethan Stadium on Tuesday night, No. 1 Florida (16-1) used a 9-2 victory over No. 6 Florida State (14-2) to extend its winning streak to 14 games to match the school record accomplished twice previously (March 20-April 11, 2001 and Feb. 21-March 17, 2004). The Gators’ triumph in the first of the three regular-season meetings between the rivals snapped the Seminoles’ streak of 10-straight victories and improved head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to 5-0 at home in his tenure versus FSU.


After Florida State plated a pair of runs in the third, senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4) clubbed a three-run bomb in the bottom of the inning to move the hosts in front and the Gators would score six additional unanswered runs to secure the win. Senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (3-0) picked up the decision as the Gator bullpen, led by a perfect three-inning stint by junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.), tossed 6.1 scoreless innings and surrendered just two hits. Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) entered the contest with two Seminoles aboard in the eighth and retired all four batters he faced over 1.1 innings to record his sixth save.


Florida also put its leadoff runner on base in seven of its eight at bats, tallied single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh and finished the scoring with three runs in the eighth. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-3, three runs, two RBI) belted his fourth homer of the season in the sixth, junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) and senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) drove in two runs apiece and freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) was 2-for-3.


“First of all, I want to thank our fans,” O’Sullivan said. “They gave us outstanding support tonight. I got word early this morning that the game was sold out, so obviously we always play well here at home and our fans have a lot to do with that. Overall, I thought we played a really good game. We made some mental mistakes tonight and we’ve got some things we need to clean up before we start SEC play, but overall I thought it was a great team effort against an outstanding Florida State team. I’m pleased with how they battled tonight after falling behind, 2-0.”


“I think with us offensively, we’re fairly deep from top to bottom and even though we may fall behind, we’ve got some offense where we can creep back in there. I think our bullpen has a lot to do with that too. We can go to a lot of different guys in the bullpen and they’ve done a nice job of holding the other team where they’re at and give our offense a chance to get going.”


“I thought they did a really nice job of getting that fourth run across. I thought Tyler [Thompson] played outstanding in center field tonight. He ran down a couple of balls tonight that were game-changers. Defensively, we played really well and I thought Bobby Poyner gave us a good start. The plan was to get three or four innings out of Bobby [Poyner] and then go to our bullpen and not extend any one guy in relief.”


Although junior Jayce Boyd opened the second with a base-hit, Gator freshman starter Bobby Poyner (Wellington, Fla.) struck out the next three batters to match his career high set against Florida Atlantic on March 6.


FSU grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third, as redshirt sophomore Stephen McGee began the inning with a single through the left side of the infield and was sacrificed into scoring position by junior Seth Miller. Senior Sherman Johnson drew a walk and junior Devon Travis laid down a bunt single up the third-base line that scored both McGee and Miller when the throw over to first base by Tobias hit the runner and ricocheted down the right-field line. Poyner caught senior James Ramsey looking on strikes and then walked Boyd intentionally before being replaced by Larson. Over 2.2 innings, Poyner had a career-best four strikeouts, allowed three hits and two runs (one earned). Larson had freshman John Nogowski ground out to end the frame.


Tucker answered in the home part of the inning with a three-run homer off junior reliever Scott Sitz (1-1) to give the Gators a 3-2 lead. Senior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) and Fontana started things off with consecutive walks and freshman Luke Weaver (2.0 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 3 BB) was replaced by Sitz, who struck out Pigott. Tucker followed with his sixth homer of the season to right field for his first big fly since Feb. 26 against William & Mary. Zunino earned a free pass and moved into scoring position with his third stolen base before junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) reached on a fielding error by Sherman Johnson at third base. Sitz worked out of further trouble by having freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) fly out to left field and freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) strike out.   


Larson plunked junior Justin Gonzalez to begin the fourth but had freshman Jose Brizuela line into the unconventional 9-3 double play and McGee ground out. In the bottom of the stanza, Tobias led off with his second double of the season and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Thompson. Fontana provided the Gators with a 4-2 lead with an RBI grounder that brought home Tobias.


Rodriguez took over for Larson (1.1 IP) at the outset of the fifth and retired the Seminoles in order. Freshman Kyle Bird replaced Sitz (2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R) prior to the bottom of the frame and issued a one-out walk to Zunino before Johnson singled into right field. The left-hander had Gushue fly out to left field and Turgeon strike out to strand the runners.


Tobias collected his second hit of the game to start UF’s sixth but was erased at second base on a fielder’s choice by Thompson. After Thompson was thrown out attempting to steal, Fontana cranked his fourth homer of the season over the right-field fence to give UF a 5-2 lead.


“I don’t really try to hit home runs, but sometimes the right fielder just turns his back and I get a little excited,” Fontana said. “I’ve improved my overall strength and I’m getting a little older and stronger. We had timely hitting tonight. We’re getting the job done and we’re doing what we need to do, whether it’s a hit-and-run or bunting to get the guys over, scoring from third with less than two outs and things like that are definitely helping us out right now. FSU is a great ball team, they’re well coached and they’ve got great players. It’s always exciting to get a win against them.”


Rodriguez set down FSU in order for the third-straight time in the seventh, including a pair of strikeouts. The Gators added another run in the home part of the inning to make it 6-2 on a sacrifice fly by Zunino that scored Tucker, who had legged out his first triple of the season into the right-field corner.


After Rodriguez threw three perfect innings, sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) took the mound in the eighth and permitted a one-out single to Johnson for FSU’s first hit since the third inning after the Gators had retired 12-consecutive batters. Gibson struck out Travis but then yielded a single into left field by Ramsey to prompt a pitching change. Maddox had Boyd line out to Turgeon to preserve UF’s four-run lead. 


“I was trying to work on everything today,” Rodriguez said. “My cutter was really good. I was inconsistent sometimes with my fastball, so I was trying to work on that and just make sure that I was in the zone. That’s what I wanted to do today and it worked out for me. The bullpen did great. Everybody came out and threw strikes, we pounded the ball into the zone and we got outs and that’s what matters.”


The Gators tacked on three more runs in the eighth on a two-run, bases-loaded single by Pigott and an RBI single up the middle by Zunino to finalize the 9-2 margin. Facing senior reliever Brian Busch, who had replaced Bird (3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R), Turgeon led off with a sharp single into center field and was sacrificed to second by Tobias before Thompson and Fontana walked to load the bases with one down. Pigott came through with a two-run single to left center field to boost the Gators’ margin to six runs. Redshirt sophomore Gage Smith replaced Busch (0.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R) and Zunino greeted the righty with an RBI single up the middle to drive in Fontana for a 9-2 score.


This Florida-Florida State baseball game was part of the Fresh from Florida Sunshine Showdown Series. Presented by Fresh from Florida, its goal is to remind all fans of the importance of buying home grown and harvested products from Florida. It supports our state’s farmers and fishermen, and our local economies.


The Gators will play an exhibition game tomorrow against the Ontario Blue Jays starting at 7 p.m. at McKethan Stadium. Admission is free. UF will kick off its 30-game SEC schedule on Friday night in the opener of a three-game set with Eastern Division rival Vanderbilt (6-10). 


Game Notes

·         Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is now 5-0 in his career against Florida State in Gainesville.

·         UF is now 7-1 (.875) against ranked teams this season.

·         The Gators put their leadoff runner on base in the first four innings and in seven of their eight at bats.

·         Of Florida’s 27 homers, three have been three-run jobs this season.

·         The Orange and Blue has multi-HR in 10 games and has homered in 15 of 17 contests this season.

·         Senior Greg Larson made his 95th career appearance, one shy of matching Josh Edmondson (2005-08) for fifth on the school’s all-time list.

·         Junior Austin Maddox now has 22 strikeouts and zero walks in 15.2 scoreless appearances in eight outings this year.

·         The Gators drew seven walks, including two each by junior Nolan Fontana, senior Tyler Thompson and junior Mike Zunino.

·         The top four hitters in UF’s lineup (Fontana, Pigott, Tucker and Zunino) accounted for all nine RBI.



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