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Friday April 13, 2012No. 4 UF Baseball Takes Opener At Tennessee, 3-1

Knoxville, Tenn.

Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) was 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and the Gator bullpen tossed four scoreless innings around several jams to lead No. 4 Florida (27-7/8-5 SEC) to a 3-1 series-opening victory over Tennessee (20-14/6-7 SEC) on Friday night. The crowd of 3,401 fans at Lindsey Nelson Stadium was the 12th-largest in the facility’s history. Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) and Fontana each had an RBI double in the fifth inning as the Gators plated two runs to snap a 1-1 tie.

 

Making the first Friday night start of his career, sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) (4-1) held the Vols to one run on six hits over five innings to improve to 3-0 in SEC play. Junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) registered four strikeouts and gave up one hit over two scoreless innings before junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) notched his 10th save in 10 opportunities by pitching the final two frames, with three strikeouts and a couple of hits. Tennessee stranded a dozen base-runners on the night.

 

UT loaded the bases with two down in the first inning but came away empty-handed. Crawford retired the first two batters before junior Drew Steckenrider walked, senior Davis Morgan legged out an infield single and junior Chris Fritts (2-for-3) was plunked to fill the bags. The righty had freshman Richard Carter ground out to keep the game scoreless.

 

The Gators put their first three batters on base in the second against junior Zack Godley (4-2) but could not break the ice. Fontana and freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) opened the inning with consecutive singles before junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (2-for-4) blooped a base-hit into left center to fill the bags. Godley worked out of trouble by striking out junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.), having junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) pop up and senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) ground out.

 

The Vols used a two-out single by freshman Will Maddox (2-for-5) in the bottom of the frame to take a 1-0 lead. Senior Chris Pierce (2-for-4) led off with a single into right field and was sacrificed over on a bunt by sophomore Ethan Bennett. Crawford had senior Zach Osborne ground out and Pierce swiped third with two down. Maddox roped a 1-2 pitch into center field to begin the scoring. After junior Zach Luther beat out a bunt for two runners aboard and Maddox stole third for runners on the corners, Crawford fanned Steckenrider.

 

Florida tied the game in the fourth on an RBI single by Johnson. Fontana started the frame with a double to the wall in right field and moved to third on a fly ball to straightaway center field by Gushue. Johnson sliced a base-knock through the right side to bring across Fontana with the equalizer.

 

UF seized a 3-1 lead in the fifth on RBI doubles by Zunino and Fontana. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) had a one-out single into right field and stole second base for his second theft of the campaign and Zunino cranked his team-leading 14th double to left field to move the visitors in front. Fontana boosted the Gators’ advantage to 3-1 with his second double of the night with two down into the right-field corner. 

 

In the sixth, the Vols had runners on second and third with none out and the bases full with two down but were held at bay. Fritts began the inning with a single into right field and Rodriguez was called upon with a 2-1 count to face Carter. The Vols inserted freshman Jared Allen as a pinch hitter and he drew a walk that was charged to Crawford, who scattered six hits and permitted one run over five innings, with five strikeouts and three walks. Soon after, a passed ball enabled both runners to move into scoring position. Rodriguez caught Pierce looking on strikes and then jammed Bennett on an infield fly. Osborne was walked intentionally to load the bases and Rodriguez kept the Gators up by two runs with a crucial inning-ending strikeout of Maddox.

 

Senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk in the eighth and Fontana followed his fourth hit of the night with a single into right field to end the night for Godley, who allowed nine hits and three runs over seven-plus innings. A bunt attempt by Gushue off reliever Steckenrider instead forced Tucker at third base and Johnson popped up to third before a wild pitch enabled Fontana and Gushue to occupy third and second base, respectively. Ramjit was given an intentional free pass to fill the bases and Steckenrider picked him off to close the frame.

 

Fritts started the Vols’ eighth with a single into right field, prompting a pitching change. Maddox came in for Rodriguez (2.0 IP, 1 H, 4 K) and struck out Allen before Pierce roped a double into left field for two men in scoring position. Maddox responded with a strikeout of senior pinch hitter Wes Walker and Dent made a tremendous defensive stop on a ball hit by Osborne and fired a bullet over to first base to preserve Florida’s lead.

 

Tennessee’s Maddox began the ninth with a double to right field off Maddox and the reliever caught Luther looking on strikes. A fly out by Steckenrider pushed the runner to third base but Maddox had Morgan pop up to Fontana to complete the contest. Each team had nine hits and neither club committed any errors.

 

Sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (1-0, 4.70) will oppose Vol senior lefty T.J. Thornton (0-0, 4.26) tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. The game will be carried live on Fox Sports Florida with Larry Conley and Dave Neal.

 

Game Notes

·         Florida ended a three-game slide of dropping game one of its SEC series after falling to South Carolina, Ole Miss and LSU.

·         The Gators have captured the last five games against Tennessee.

·         Junior Nolan Fontana had two doubles in a game for the second time this season and the third time in his career.

·         Fontana matched his career high of four hits set against USF on Feb. 18, 2011.

·         Fontana’s four-hit effort was the first by a Florida batter since Brian Johnson and Daniel Pigott each had four against Miami (Fla.) on March 3, 2012.

·         Junior Austin Maddox is already tied for seventh on the Gators’ single-season saves’ chart with 10. Josh Fogg (1998) and Danny Wheeler (1994) share the school record with 13.

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