Wednesday May 2, 2012No. 5 Gator Baseball Visits SEC Tri-Leader No. 6 Kentucky
With just three league series remaining, fifth-ranked Florida (33-12/12-9 SEC) heads to Lexington for a critical three-game set at sixth-ranked Kentucky (36-9/14-7 SEC). The Wildcats are tied atop the SEC standings with No. 3 South Carolina (33-11) and No. 4 LSU (35-10), two games ahead of the Gators in both the overall and Eastern Division standings.
Start times from Cliff Hagan Stadium are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday (ESPNU), 7 p.m. on Friday (CSS, Channel 199 on the Cox Communications cable system in Gainesville/Ocala) and 2 p.m. on Saturday (WRUF-TV, Channel 6 on the Cox Communications cable system in Gainesville/Ocala). All three games can be heard on Country 103.7 The Gator with Jeff Cardozo and Mick Hubert.
Junior right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (4-1, 3.46) will oppose Kentucky junior left-hander Taylor Rogers (5-2, 4.84) in the series opener on Thursday. Sophomore righty Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (3-0, 3.86) will meet junior southpaw Jerad Grundy (4-1, 4.29) in Friday’s game two. In a matchup of left-handers to conclude the series on Saturday, Gator junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (5-3, 4.50) will meet UK sophomore Corey Littrell (6-0, 2.44).
Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) is hitting .335 and paces the Gators in RBI (43), doubles (18) and homers (12), senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) is also batting .335, with 35 runs, 28 RBI, 11 doubles and five homers, while Johnson is batting .320 with 30 RBI and five round-trippers. Senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) is at .309 with 34 RBI and 11 dingers and junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) has a .300 clip and is the squad’s leader in runs (39), walks (33) and stolen bases (9-for-9).
Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (2-2, 1.58) has registered 12 saves in 12 opportunities and has 51 strikeouts in 45.2 innings covering a team-high 25 appearances. Senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) is 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA, junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) is 3-1 with a 2.14 ERA, freshman Johnny Magliozzi (East Milton, Mass.) has a 4-2 mark and a 3.41 ERA and sophomore Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) is 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA.
Through seven of the 10 conference series, Florida is 12-9 and Kentucky is 14-7. The Gators have claimed four of their seven weekend sets. Amazingly, UF’s last six SEC series have come down to a deciding third game (3-3 record). The Wildcats are 6-1 in their league series, with a sweep of South Carolina and 2-1 decisions over Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas and LSU. UK had won every weekend series this season until dropping two of three at Vanderbilt last weekend (5-2, 3-4, 1-6).
Florida split the first two encounters with Kentucky at McKethan Stadium to compete the 2011 regular season, rallying for a 9-6 win in the series opener before the Wildcats cruised to a 14-1 victory on Friday night. With the league title hanging in the balance, five different Gators totaled three or more hits to claim the rubber game of the series on Saturday afternoon, 19-3. UF batted .373 (44-for-118) over the three games, with 29 runs, seven doubles and five homers. Zunino continued his offensive surge that eventually yielded the SEC Player of the Year Award by going 7-for-11 (.636) with six runs and six RBI, Johnson went 5-for-8 (.625) with four RBI and Tucker was 6-for-13 (.462). Maddox powered the hosts in the finale with a pair of homers and six-RBI, with Josh Adams (3-for-6, two runs) and Johnson (3-for-4, two runs) each chipping in with three-hit efforts. Zunino was a perfect 4-for-4 with four runs and Tucker (5-for-6) had career-bests in hits (five) and runs (five). He was the first Gator in seven years to score five times in outing (C.J. Smith vs. Auburn, 5/2/04). Whitson improved to 7-0 by giving up one run on seven hits in five innings. The righty had four strikeouts and did not allow any walks. UK evened the series on Friday, 14-1, behind the pitching of Alex Meyer (7.0 IP, 9 K, 5 H, 1 R) and an 18-hit offensive outburst. Zunino cranked a pair of homers and drove in five runs to lead the Gators to a series-opening victory on Thursday night. Zunino (3-for-4) belted a solo shot in the third inning that tied the game at 4-4 and connected on a three-run jack with two down in sixth to move the Gators in front, 7-5. Johnson worked six innings, giving up seven hits and five runs (four earned), with six strikeouts and one walk to pick up the win, while Maddox recorded the final three outs to collect the save.
In their last visit to Lexington, the Gators claimed two of three games at Kentucky over the weekend of April 16-18, 2010. UF emerged victorious in the first two games, 10-8 and 6-3, before the Wildcats salvaged the finale, 6-5. Maddox batted .538 (7-for-13) against UK, homered in all three games and boasted a slugging percentage of 1.462. He also paced UF in RBI (five) and runs (five) and six of his seven hits on the weekend went for extra-bases, as he had three dingers and three doubles. Tucker belted a pair of homers in Lexington. Despite enduring a 90-minute rain delay in the top of the eighth inning in the series opener, Florida posted a 10-8 victory over Kentucky for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s 100th victory. Maddox (3-for-5) snapped a 6-6 tie with a towering three-run homer with two down in the seventh and Matt den Dekker (2-for-3) opened the eighth with a round-tripper before the rain delay. The Gators overcame a 3-0 deficit with a five-run fifth. Kevin Chapman recorded the final six outs and had four strikeouts to collect his seventh save, while Jeff Barfield earned the decision. Starting third baseman Bryson Smith returned to the lineup after missing 14-straight games with an injured finger. Larson threw 3.2 scoreless and hitless innings and Tucker drove in three runs to lift UF to a 6-3 victory on Saturday. After allowing a leadoff double in the fourth, UF’s pitching staff held the Wildcats without a hit until there were two outs in the eighth and the hosts stranded 14 runners in the ballgame. Maddox went 3-for-5 with two runs and Zunino put the Gators ahead to stay with a third-inning round-tripper. Kentucky avoided the sweep with a 6-5 win on Sunday. The Wildcats raced out to a 6-0 lead through three innings. Adams brought the Gators within a run in the ninth with a two-run homer with one down before Matt Little recorded the final two outs. Tucker (2-for-5) and Maddox (1-for-3) each homered in the setback. Rodriguez hurled a career-high five scoreless innings and registered a then-personal-best five strikeouts.
*Kevin O’Sullivan is 7-5 (.583) against Kentucky: 4-2 in Gainesville (.667) and 3-3 (.500) in Lexington.
*In his five years at Florida, O’Sullivan is 147-33 (.817) at McKethan Stadium, 49-43 (.533) at opponents’ stadiums and 13-18 (.419) at neutral sites.
*UF is 19-4 (.826) against non-ranked opponents and 14-8 (.636) versus top-25 foes this season.
*The Gators are 23-10 (.697) in games that are part of a weekend series and are 10-2 (.833) in mid-week contests. The Orange and Blue has an 8-3 (.727) weekend series ledger, with four sweeps.
*Florida is 9-5 (.643) in true road games this season, with a 5-4 (.556) showing in league play. Kentucky is 25-3 (.893) at Cliff Hagan Stadium and is 7-2 (.778) in nine SEC home encounters.
*The Gators have captured nine of their last 11 series against Kentucky, including three-game sweeps in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005.
*Florida has notched 2-1 series triumphs the last three seasons (W, L, W in 2009; W, W, L in 2010; W, L, W in 2011) since Kentucky emerged victorious in Lexington in 2008 by posting a 3-2 win in 10 innings after the teams split the first two games (11-7 UK, 13-7 UF).
*In SEC series this year, the Gators are 4-3 (.571) in game one, 4-3 (.571) in game two and 4-3 (.571) in game three. Kentucky is 3-4 (.429) in series openers, 5-2 (.714) in game two and 6-1 (.857) in game three.
*Florida starting pitchers are 18-4 with a 3.60 ERA and have 168 strikeouts and 40 walks in 202.1 innings.
*The Gator bullpen is 15-8 with 13 saves and a 2.40 ERA this season, with 191 strikeouts and 42 walks in 202.2 innings.
*Twenty of Florida’s nation-leading total of 56 homers have come on the road, but the club has been held without a big fly for the last three games, matching their longest drought of the year.
*The Gators lead the country in strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 359 K and 82 BB (4.38) and rank second in walks allowed per nine innings (1.82).
*The series opener will mark the Gators’ fourth appearance as part of the ESPNU Thursday Night SEC Baseball Game of the Week. UF fell to No. 18 Arkansas, 4-3, in Fayetteville on May 5, 2011, and was on the short end of a 9-3 score at No. 6 South Carolina on March 22 and a 7-6 decision to No. 7 LSU on April 5 in Gainesville.
*Florida is 6-1 (.857) in road games this season against top-10 competition and is 22-13 (.629) in O’Sullivan’s tenure. UF took all three games at No. 8 Miami (Fla.) the first weekend of March (7-5, 13-5, 8-5).
*Junior Hudson Randall, who returned to the Friday spot last week by defeating No. 17 Arkansas (6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 K, 1 BB), is now tied for seventh on the school’s career wins list with 23, joining Darren McClellan (1993-95), Darren O’Day (2003-06), Alex Panteliodis (2009-11) and Johnny Wiggs (1988-89). Dan Eggart (1962-65) occupies the sixth position with 24 victories.
*Sophomore Jonathon Crawford has never seen any action versus UK. In seven SEC starts spanning 31.2 innings, the right-hander is 3-0 and has registered a 2.56 ERA.
*Junior Steven Rodriguez has totaled a team-high 56 strikeouts in 42 innings and is 3-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 23 appearances.
*Senior Greg Larson is third on UF’s all-time list with 110 appearances. The righty is a perfect 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA in 23 games this season, and has 31 strikeouts and seven walks in 39 innings.
*All 11 of sophomore Karsten Whitson’s career wins have come at home. As a rookie, he was 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA, with 57 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Whitson sports a 3-0 mark at McKethan Stadium this season.
*Junior Mike Zunino’s two-run blast in the sixth inning against USF was the 40th dinger of his career, putting him in a tie for fourth place on the school’s career list with Ben Harrison (2001-04).
*Zunino is 10-for-21 (.476) in six career games against the Wildcats, with nine runs, seven RBI, three homers and a double entering the weekend. Senior Preston Tucker is 12-for-39 (.308) in nine outings versus UK, with 13 RBI, 10 runs, six doubles and two dingers. He was 6-for-13 (.462) last May with three doubles.
*Junior Austin Maddox (2-2, 1.58) is 12-for-12 in save opportunities and has 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 45.2 innings. He had five saves last season and UF’s mark for saves in a campaign is 13 by Danny Wheeler in 1994 and Josh Fogg in 1998. Leadoff hitters are 5-for-35 (.143) against Maddox, who is tied for fifth on the school’s career list with 17 saves with Jamie McAndrew (1987-89). Current Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher O’Day is fourth with 20 saves.
*Florida holds a 277-152 scoring advantage and has out-scored foes, 78-32, over the final three innings and extra frames combined.
*Nineteen of UF’s 33 victories have been come-from-behind. Last season, 20 of the Gators’ school-record 53 wins came after they were trailing.
*The Gators have clubbed a nation’s best 56 homers in 45 games after totaling 69 HR in 72 games last season. Ten different players have left the yard, led by Zunino (12), Tucker (11), junior Nolan Fontana (8), freshman Taylor Gushue (5) and junior Brian Johnson (5). The Orange and Blue has multiple homers in 19 games and has at least one jack in 30 of 45 contests this season.
*Fontana has already set his career high for homers after having three as a freshman and five as a sophomore. He leads UF in stolen bases by going 9-for-9.
*Tucker had a couple of doubles versus Tennessee on April 14 to eclipse Mark Ellis’ school-record total of 61 set between 1996-99. He recently became just the second player in Gator baseball history to reach the 300-hit plateau. With 311 career hits, Tucker needs nine more to surpass Ellis’ record (319). Last weekend, Tucker surpassed the school-record total of 941 at bats shared by Ellis and Josh Adams (2008-11) and now has 948.
*With 237 career starts entering the series with Kentucky, Tucker is second at UF behind Adams (252). The senior is up to third in games played (243), trailing only Mario Linares (247, 1988-91) and Adams (253).
*The Gators are 16-8 (.667) this year when opponents score first and are 25-3 (.892) when out-hitting their foe.
*After committing three errors during the Arkansas series, Florida has 35 errors through 45 games for an SEC-best .980 fielding percentage and has played error-free in 19 contests (17-2).
*The Gators’ 31 sacrifice flies are over halfway to the school’s single-season mark of 48 done in 2000. UF had 27 sac flies last year, led by nine from Fontana.
*Florida had at least one double in 18-straight games before having zero last Sunday against Arkansas. The series finale with the Razorbacks marked the second time all year that the Gators were held without an extra-base hit (March 22 at South Carolina).
*Freshman third baseman Josh Tobias returned to action in the field on April 25 against Bethune-Cookman for the first time since suffering a hand injury at South Carolina on March 23 and returned to the starting lineup last Saturday versus Arkansas. In two starts last weekend, he was 2-for-6 (.333) with a hit-by-pitch.
*In SEC games only, Kentucky is fifth in hitting with a .274 average, while Florida is eighth (.257). The Gators are first in homers (21) and fourth in runs (106) and RBI (97).
*UF is second in the league with a 3.21 earned run average in conference games, with UK fifth at 3.76. The Gators’ fielding percentage of .982 rates first, while the Wildcats’ .975 clip is sixth.