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Saturday March 17, 2012No. 1 Baseball Runs Winning Streak To 16 Games, Clinches Series With 5-1 Win Over Vanderbilt

Gainesville, Fla.

Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (3-0) allowed two singles over six shutout innings and matched his career high of nine strikeouts to lead No. 1 Florida (18-1/2-0 SEC) over Vanderbilt (7-12/0-2 SEC), 5-1, on Saturday afternoon in front of 4,364 fans at McKethan Stadium.


The Gators’ 16th-consecutive victory secured their third-straight regular-season series triumph over the Commodores. Holding a 1-0 lead in the fifth, the Gators used a two-run single by senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and a two-run homer by senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) to seize control of the contest.


“Honestly, I thought it was the best Brian [Johnson] has pitched in a long time,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He threw all four of his pitches for strikes and he moved the ball back and forth. He didn’t miss very many spots, if any today. I thought that Brian was outstanding today and he needed to be because their guy was really good for the first part of the ballgame.”


“We have all-stars on the mound. If we pitch and play defense, we’ve got a chance. When our starting pitching hasn’t been great, our bullpen has stepped up. When we’ve been a little light in the bullpen because we’ve used a guy or two the day before, our starters have picked us up. So, it’s a full team effort and it’s a full staff effort.”


Johnson retired the first 11 Commodore hitters, five by strikeouts, before junior Mike Yastrzemski singled through the left side of the infield with two down in the fourth. The left-hander equaled his season high of six K with an inning-ending punch-out of sophomore Conrad Gregor.


Senior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-3) and Johnson were each plunked with one down in the fourth, the first time this season that either player had been hit. A grounder by freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) moved the runners into scoring position and a wild pitch by junior Drew VerHagen (2-2) enabled Zunino to come across with the game’s opening run. The righty had freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) line out to left field to keep the score at 1-0 and strand Johnson at third base.


Johnson recorded the first two outs of the fifth before issuing a walk to redshirt senior Drew Fann. However, the southpaw threw out senior Riley Reynolds as he tried to bunt for a single to close the frame.


Florida increased its lead to 5-0 in the fifth on a two-run single by Pigott and a two-run homer by Tucker. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) reached on a fielding error by junior shortstop Anthony Gomez to start the inning and freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) earned a free pass before junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) laid down a sacrifice bunt to push his teammates over. Junior Sam Selman replaced VerHagen (4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER) and Pigott boosted the Gators’ advantage to three runs with a two-run single into left field. Tucker delivered his seventh homer of the year to right field, just beyond the reach of Yastrzemski, for a five-run margin.


Well, judging from my previous swings, I wasn’t seeing the ball too well off of him [Selman],” Tucker admitted. “I just tried to grind out the at-bat, I knew that the pitch wasn’t a great one, but I didn’t want to strike out again. I just put the barrel on the ball and good things happen when you do that. I knew the ball was really low, it started out in the zone, so I just decided to swing at it.”


Johnson limited Vanderbilt to two singles over six scoreless frames before sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) took over on the mound. Junior Connor Harrell had a two-out, ground-rule double that bounced over the center field fence and Gibson had Fann ground out to complete the inning.


“I was working my fastball in and out and the key thing is throwing your off-speed pitches for strikes,” Johnson said. “My change-up was fading away, my fastball was there and I was locating. That’s what I needed to do. I threw 88 pitches today and my arm felt fresh throughout the game, so I’m really happy to see that.”


Tucker led off the bottom of the stanza with a walk and stole second with one down, prompting a pitching change. Freshman Adam Ravenelle replaced Selman (2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R) and surrendered a pinch-hit single into right center to junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.), giving the Gators runners on the corners. Ravenelle struck out Gushue and Shafer to get out of the jam.


The Commodores got on the board in the eighth on a two-out RBI single up the middle by Gomez (2-for-4). Gibson set down the first two hitters and redshirt junior Jack Lupo legged out an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Gomez narrowed the gap to 5-1 with a base-hit into center field, ending UF’s bullpen scoreless streak at 31.2 innings dating back to March 4 at Miami (Fla.). It was also the first run permitted by Gibson this season after 10.1 scoreless innings.


Turgeon walked to open the Gator eighth and redshirt sophomore Keenan Kolinsky replaced Ravenelle (0.2 IP, 1 H). Junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) moved Turgeon over with a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt and Kolinsky jammed Fontana on a foul pop-up behind home plate and had Pigott fly out to left field.


Freshman Chris Harvey had a one-out single in the ninth, ending the afternoon for Gibson (2.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R). Senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) struck out Harrell and had freshman pinch hitter Connor Castellano ground out to end the contest. The Gators held a 7-6 edge in hits.


Sophomore Jonathon Crawford (1-1, 5.71) (Okeechobee, Fla.) will be making his SEC debut in Sunday’s finale against VU freshman righty Tyler Beede (0-2, 7.24). The game will be carried live on Fox Sports Florida at 1 p.m.


Game Notes

·         The Gators have claimed their last six meetings with the Commodores.

·         Florida improved to 15-1 at McKethan Stadium this year.

·         Junior Brian Johnson’s nine strikeouts tied his career high and surpassed his previous season high of six against Florida Gulf Coast on March 10. The lefty had nine K in an outing for the fourth time in his career, last done against Ole Miss on April 30, 2011.

·         The Gators scored five runs in the fifth in the series opener and had four runs in the fifth frame this afternoon.

·         Senior Preston Tucker now has 48 career home runs, 12 of which are two-run jobs. His seven dingers tie junior Mike Zunino for the team lead.

·         Florida has homered in 16 of 19 games this year.

·         Senior Greg Larson’s 96th career appearance ties him with Josh Edmondson for fifth on the school’s career list.

·         Vanderbilt turned double plays in both the second (1-6-3) and third (6-4-3) innings, equaling the most turned against the Gators this season (Cal State Fullerton, Feb. 19)

·         Junior Nolan Fontana’s five sacrifice hits lead Florida.

·         The Gators played error-free baseball for the second day in a row.

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