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Saturday April 21, 2012No. 1 UF Baseball Outlasts Georgia, 3-2, In 16 Innings To Claim Series Opener

Gainesville, Fla.

A two-out throwing error on a third strike in the 16th inning allowed the winning run to score as No. 1 Florida (30-8/10-6 SEC) edged Georgia (23-16/7-9 SEC), 3-2, in front of 4,840 fans on Friday night at McKethan Stadium. It was the Gators’ longest outing since defeating LSU, 7-6, in 16 innings on March 22, 1996, and was the longest game by time in Bulldog history. Neither team committed any errors until the final play of the contest.


With the action approaching five hours and the clubs locked in a 2-2 stalemate, UF junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) drew a one-out walk from redshirt freshman Jay Swinford (0-1). Junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) greeted junior Blake Dieterich with sacrifice bunt to move Ramjit into scoring position and the southpaw uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ramjit to take third. Although Deiterich struck out junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) and could have ended the inning, an errant throw by sophomore catcher Brandon Stephens permitted Ramjit to come across with the decisive run.


“It was an unbelievable game by both teams,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought Georgia’s defense was outstanding. Their infielders made some great plays and the right fielder made a great throw to home to throw out Josh Tobias. They did everything they needed to do. It was just unfortunate that somebody had to lose this game.”


“We got into a situation where we threw [Steven] Rodriguez for 51 pitches and [Austin] Maddox for 61. You’re using your two most reliable guys at the end of the game and if you lose a game like that, the chances of using them tomorrow aren’t great. We did whatever we needed to do. Once again, I think we need to commend Georgia. They played outstanding. It just came down to that one play there at the end. You’ve got to compliment Georgia’s pitchers. They threw strikes and their defense played great defense behind them. They used six different pitchers and they all threw well.”


 “I’ve never been so excited to strike out,” Fontana said. “Once I struck out, I saw the ball in the dirt and I just ran hard like our coaches always preach. It’s baseball. You get to come out tomorrow again and play and that’s what we get to look forward to.”


Senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (5-0) threw three scoreless innings without permitting any hits to earn the victory, while the four Gator pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts and zero walks in 16 innings. Sophomore starter Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) went the first 4.1 innings and gave up one run and was followed to the mound by junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.), who scattered four hits over 3.0 innings, with four strikeouts and one run. Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) worked a career-high 5.2 innings and totaled five K and four hits before turning the game over to Larson in the 14th.   


After Crawford retired the side in order to start the game, the Gators put two runners aboard against redshirt sophomore Alex Wood but came away empty-handed. Fontana (2-for-7) led off with an infield single and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (3-for-5). Senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) drew a walk and a grounder by junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) advanced his teammates into scoring position before junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) went down on strikes.


Freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) began the second with a flare into right field and Wood had freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) ground into a 1-4-6-3 double play and Ramjit pop out in foul territory.


Senior Peter Verdin (2-for-7) opened the scoring for the visitors with a two-out RBI single in the third inning. Crawford set down the first six Bulldogs before senior Levi Hyams (2-for-7) started the frame with a base-hit through the right side of the infield. After senior Colby May flew out to center field, Zunino gunned down Hyams attempting to steal second and junior Curt Powell (3-for-7) extended the inning with a double down the right-field line. Soon after, Verdin sliced a 2-1 pitch into left field to drive in his teammate.


Although Fontana drew a one-out walk and Pigott followed with a single through the left side of the infield in the home part of the inning, Wood induced an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play by Tucker.


Junior Kyle Farmer (2-for-7) began the fourth with a single into left field and went to second on a ground out by junior Brett DeLoach (2-for-5), who was robbed of a hit on a diving stop by Turgeon. Crawford fanned sophomore Conor Welton and had freshman Justin Bryan ground out to strand the runner.


Florida tied the game at a run apiece in the bottom of the inning. Zunino started the frame with his team-leading 16th double to the left-field wall and Johnson (2-for-4) punched a game-tying single up the middle to raise his hitting streak to seven games. Turgeon (2-for-7) stroked a one-out single into left field that moved Johnson to second and Wood countered with strikeouts of Ramjit and Dent.


The Bulldogs filled the bags with one down in the fifth but were held at bay by Rodriguez. Hyams opened the inning with a single into center field and went to second on a grounder by May. Powell legged out an infield single to shortstop and Verdin was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one down and prompt a pitching change. Rodriguez replaced Crawford (4.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 K) and struck out freshman Nelson Ward before having a fielder’s choice by Farmer force Verdin at second to keep the contest tied.


UF seized a 2-1 lead in the home part of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Zunino. Fontana collected his second hit of the night with a leadoff single to right and Pigott deposited a Texas Leaguer into shallow left field to put the Gators in business. A fly-out in foul territory by Tucker advanced Fontana to third base and Zunino brought him home with his team-leading seventh sac fly to straightaway center field.  


DeLoach opened the sixth with a base-hit into right field and Welton (2-for-7) beat out a bunt up the first-base line for two Bulldogs aboard. Rodriguez struck out junior pinch hitter Kevin Ruiz, Dent made a tremendous catch in foul territory to retire Hyams and Ramjit snagged an infield fly by May to escape the jam. Rodriguez then put the Bulldogs down 1-2-3 in the seventh, with strikeouts of Verdin and Ward.


In the eighth, DeLoach ripped a one-out triple into the gap in left center and scored on a single into left center by Welton. Maddox was summoned from the bullpen for Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 K) and plunked Ruiz for two men on base. A grounder by Hyams advanced the runners to second and third and Maddox struck out May to preserve the stalemate.


Pigott walked on four pitches to begin UF’s eighth and Wood answered by catching Tucker looking on strikes and having Zunino fly out to left field. A wild pitch by Wood enabled Pigott to take second base and the southpaw walked Johnson intentionally with two down. The move paid off when Wood had a grounder by Shafer force Johnson to complete the inning.   


Maddox registered the first two outs of the ninth before surrendering a single into left center by Ward. The righty had a fly ball from Farmer to Tucker close the frame. Junior Bryan Benzor replaced Wood (8.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 7 K, 4 BB) prior to the Gators’ at bat and yielded a one-out single into right field by Ramjit. Dent laid down his team-leading seventh sacrifice bunt of the year to push Ramjit to second and Benzor sent the game into extra innings by having Fontana fly out to center field.


Tucker singled up the middle with one down in the 10th and Zunino slammed a ball off Benzor’s leg that ricocheted right to first baseman May for the second out. Johnson was walked intentionally for the second-straight time and Benzor uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Johnson to second and Tucker to third base. Benzor struck out Shafer to strand the runners and provide the fans with more free baseball.


Maddox picked up the first two outs of the 11th before Powell and Verdin had consecutive singles. The right-hander caught Ward looking on strikes for his third punch-out. Benzor retired the Gators in order in the home part of the inning.


Farmer opened the 12th with a single into left field and was sacrificed to second by Stephens. Maddox struck out Welton and had Ruiz ground out. Benzor departed after three scoreless innings in which he gave two hits and freshman Pete Nagel took over on the hill. The righty had Fontana foul out, Pigott ground out and Tucker pop out.


After Maddox pitched a clean 13th, Nagel permitted a one-out single by Johnson to right field. Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) was inserted as a pinch runner and Shafer drew a walk for two Gators aboard. Turgeon roped a single into right field but Tobias was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw by Ruiz. With runners on the corners and two down, Nagel had Ramjit send a grounder to third base, where Powell made a great stop and throw over to first base to keep the game going.


Larson replaced Maddox to begin the 14th after the right-hander went a career-high 5.2 innings, allowing four hits with five strikeouts. Larson set down the Bulldogs in order and senior Chase Hawkins came in for Nagel (2.0 IP, 2 H) and notched the first two outs in the bottom of the inning before Pigott singled into left field. The left-hander fanned Tucker to end the stanza.


Larson recorded three-consecutive outs in the 15th and Swinford took over for Hawkins. The righty had Zunino, freshman pinch hitter Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Shafer ground out to head to the 16th inning.  


The Gator pitching staff had retired 13-straight Bulldogs before Hester was hit by Larson with one down in the 16th. Dent made a solid defensive play to throw out Powell for the second out, moving Hester into scoring position. Larson struck out Verdin to strand the runner.


Johnson (5-1, 3.88) will oppose Bulldog senior righty Michael Palazzone (1-5, 5.81) in Saturday’s game two at 7 p.m., live on CSS (Cox Channel 199 in the Gainesville/Ocala area).


Game Notes

·         Former Gator Brad Wilkerson, the school’s inaugural inductee into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame this upcoming June, was recognized in pregame ceremonies that featured a video montage of his highlights from UF.

·         Tonight was the first extra-inning game of the year for both the Gators and Bulldogs.

·         Three of Florida’s last four wins against Georgia at McKethan Stadium have occurred on the final play of the game (homer by Ben McMahan on May 14, 2010, sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino on May 15, 2010 and throwing error on strikeout tonight).

·         The Gators did not commit any errors for the 16th time this year (14-2 record).

·         Florida’s pitchers did not permit any walks for the eighth time this season.

·         After trailing 1-0, UF picked up its 17th come-from-behind win of the campaign.

·         The Orange and Blue is now 20-3 at McKethan Stadium in 2012.

·         Georgia had been 5-0 in SEC series openers entering tonight.

·         The Gators have drawn over 4,000 spectators on each Friday of SEC home weekend series.

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