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Tuesday April 17, 2012Johnson Powers No. 1 UF Baseball Over Georgia Southern, 8-2

Gainesville, Fla.

Junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) matched his career high of five RBI as No. 1 Florida (29-8) kicked off a nine-game stretch at McKethan Stadium with an 8-2 victory over Georgia Southern (22-17) on Tuesday night. Johnson belted a three-run homer in the first inning and added a two-run double in the seventh, while senior right-hander Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (4-0) earned the win and also moved to third place on the Gators’ all-time list with his 105th appearance. All eight of UF’s runs were scored with two outs.  

 

“I thought this was one of the better games that we've played,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Our pitching was outstanding. Brian Johnson is really swinging the bat well right now and we got a lot of contributions from different guys tonight offensively. I'm really pleased with our effort tonight. I thought we were focused and it was certainly a good game looking forward. It's a team effort, and, like I said, I was pleased with our effort tonight. I thought the focus was really good, coming off a good game we played on Sunday at Tennessee. Hopefully, we're hitting our stride a little bit.”

 

Johnson (2-for-4) cranked a three-run homer off the scoreboard overlooking right field to give the Gators a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) opened with a single up the middle but redshirt freshman Lucas Hart (1-1) had freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) singled into right field and junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-3) drew a walk before Johnson cranked a 2-1 offering out of the yard for his fifth dinger of the season and his third in the past five games.

 

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Johnson said. “I'm trying to have four or five good at-bats a game and I am just trying to stay focused for every pitch. In the earlier part of the season, I was just fouling those balls off and digging myself a hole. Now, I'm making contact with the pitch.”

 

Hart plunked freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) to start the second and was replaced by sophomore Taylor Burke. Junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) executed a hit-and-run with a single into center field for runners on the corners, matching his career-best hitting streak of three games. Burke pitched out of the jam by having a fielder’s choice by Fontana cut down Turgeon at home plate before having Shafer ground out to end the inning.

 

Georgia Southern narrowed the gap to 3-1 on a two-out single by junior Michael Burruss (4-for-4) in the third. Freshman Tyler Avera (2-for-4) led off with a base-hit into center field and was sacrificed to second by sophomore Brent Pugh. Larson had junior Scooter Williams ground out and Burruss sliced a base-knock up the middle to put the Eagles on the board.  

 

Freshman Chase Griffin started the fourth with a single, bringing sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) in for Larson (3.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 K on a pitch count). The southpaw had sophomore Stryker Brown fly out to left field, junior T.D. Davis ground out and then struck out freshman Hunter Thomas to complete the frame.

 

Avera started the fifth with an infield single and Pugh laid down his second sacrifice of the game to advance his teammate into scoring position. Gibson caught Williams looking on strikes and Burruss legged out an infield single near first base for runners on the corners with two down. Freshman Johnny Magliozzi (East Milton, Mass.) was summoned from the bullpen for Gibson (1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 K) and had senior Eric Phillips ground out to preserve the Gators’ 3-1 advantage.

 

A two-out passed ball by Georgia Southern freshman catcher Chase Griffin in the fifth inning enabled Fontana to score UF’s fourth run. Fontana had drawn a leadoff walk from junior Josh Stevenson and moved around the bases on grounders by Shafer and Tucker. After Fontana came in, Zunino ripped his team-leading 15th double to the base of the left field wall and Johnson flew out to straightaway center field.

 

Magliozzi plunked Griffin to open the sixth and was replaced by junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.), who struck out Brown and Davis and had a grounder by Thomas force Griffin at second base.  

 

In the sixth, Turgeon had a one-out single into right center and went to second on a grounder by junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.). A wild pitch by freshman Jared Cheek allowed Turgeon to reach third base and another wild pitch resulted in a 5-1 lead for the hosts.

 

Georgia Southern threatened with two outs in the seventh, as Williams and Burruss had consecutive singles. However, Rodriguez induced an inning-ending fly-out by senior Eric Phillips.

 

Shafer singled through the left side with one down in the home part of the frame and went to third on a two-out single by Zunino before Johnson cleared the bases with his seventh double into the gap in right center for a 7-1 margin. Shafer delivered a two-out RBI single in the eighth that brought home freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.), who had drawn a pinch-hit leadoff walk from senior Josh Adams.

 

Rodriguez worked two scoreless innings, with three strikeouts and two hits, sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) worked a perfect eighth and junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) surrendered a hit and a run in the ninth on an RBI grounder by sophomore pinch hitter Garren Palmer.

 

The Gators return to conference play on Friday night by hosting Georgia (23-15/7-8 SEC) at 7 p.m. in the opener of a three-game series. The game will be carried on CSS, which will air on Channel 199 on the Cox Communications cable system in Gainesville.  

 

Game Notes

·         Florida now leads the all-time series against Georgia Southern, 10-3.

·         The Gators matched their hit total from last season’s meeting with three hits in the first inning.

·         Eight of UF’s nine starters contributed a hit tonight.

·         Junior Brian Johnson raised his hitting streak to a season-high six games. His fifth homer of the year matched his career high set last year.

·         Johnson also drove in five runs at Miami (Fla.) on March 3 this season.

·         Senior Greg Larson’s total of 105 career appearances trails only Connor Falkenbach (124, 2002-05) and Darren O’Day (117, 2003-06).

·         Sophomore Karsten Whitson made his first career relief appearance in the eighth inning.

·         Gator batters struck out twice tonight, the team’s fewest since March 9 against Florida Gulf Coast.

·         Tonight marked the seventh time this season that UF’s pitching staff did not walk any batters.

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