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Sunday May 13, 2012Zunino's Homer Powers No. 5 UF Baseball Past No. 25 Mississippi State, 2-1

Gainesville, Fla.

Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) belted a solo homer in the eighth inning to lift No. 5 Florida (38-14/16-11 SEC) to a 2-1 series-clinching victory over No. 25 Mississippi State (31-20/13-14 SEC) on Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium.

 

Zunino’s team-leading 13th homer came with one down off of freshman Jacob Lindgren (1-2) to move the Gators in front and junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (3-2) completed a perfect outing by setting down the Bulldogs 1-2-3 in the ninth. In his first action since April 29, Maddox retired all seven MSU hitters he faced and totaled two strikeouts to pick up the win. The teams combined for six hits on the afternoon.

 

“We had a lot of guys on the mound today and each of them had to make good pitches,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Karsten Whitson battled through some jams and I thought he made some big pitches when he needed to. Daniel Gibson came in and did a nice job, Greg Larson rebounded from yesterday, Steven Rodriguez did a great job and it’s great to have Austin [Maddox] back. We hung in there today. We’ve got great hitters and one of these days we’re going to turn the page and get this offense going again. I truly believe that once we get this offense going, we’ll be really, really tough to beat. The positive is that we won two out of three. I don’t see how you could ever be disappointed in your team when you win a weekend series.”

 

Mississippi State had runners on the corners in the first inning but could not break the ice. Sophomore Adam Frazier opened the game with a walk and moved to second on a one-out walk by junior Trey Porter. Sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) had a fielder’s choice by sophomore Hunter Renfroe force Porter at second base and then the righty caught junior Mitch Slauter looking on strikes to end the frame.

 

The Gators threatened in the bottom of the frame with two runners in scoring position but were kept off the board by sophomore Evan Mitchell. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk and collected his team-leading 10th stolen base in 10 attempts with one down. Zunino earned a free pass and Mitchell struck out junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) for the second out. However, a wild pitch on the play permitted Fontana to take third base. Zunino stole second for a pair of runners in scoring position and Mitchell responded with an inning-ending strikeout of senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.).

 

The Bulldogs loaded the bases in the second but were held at bay. Senior Brent Brownlee was hit by a pitch to start the inning, freshman Matthew Britton flew out to left field and a fielder’s choice by redshirt freshman Wes Rea forced Brownlee at second base for the second out. Junior Sam Frost and Frazier drew consecutive walks to load the bases and Whitson worked out of the jam by having sophomore Taylor Stark ground out.

 

Renfroe connected on a one-out solo shot in the third inning to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. His fourth homer of the season was his seventh hit of the series. Slauter followed with a single into right field and went to second on a wild pitch. A grounder by Brownlee pushed Slauter to third and Whitson stranded him there with a strikeout of Britton.

 

Florida answered with the tying run on an RBI grounder by senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.). Junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) led off with an infield single and went to second on a throwing error by Frazier. Fontana moved his teammate to third with a sacrifice bunt and Tucker’s ground ball to second base brought home Ramjit. Zunino walked with two down and advanced to third on a base-hit into right field by Johnson. A walk to Pigott ended the afternoon for Mitchell (2.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 2 K) and MSU redshirt freshman Ross Mitchell had freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) ground out to preserve the deadlock.

 

MSU loaded the bases with one out in the fourth but could not take the lead. Whitson (3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 4 K) issued a one-out walk to Frost and was replaced by sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.). Frazier singled into right field, moving Frost to third, and went to second on a throwing error on the relay by Tucker. After an intentional walk to Stark loaded the bases, Gibson came through with an important strikeout of Porter and senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) was summoned from the bullpen. The righty had Renfroe fly out to leave the bags full.

 

Brownlee reached on a one-out error in the fifth and went to second on a grounder by Britton. Freshman Bobby Poyner (Wellington, Fla.) took over on the mound for Larson (1.0 IP) and walked sophomore pinch hitter Daryl Norris intentionally. Junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) came in and struck out Frost.

 

Slauter earned a one-out walk in the seventh and a throwing error by Rodriguez on a pickoff throw enabled the runner to take third. Brownlee walked after an 11-pitch at bat for runners on the corners and Rodriguez (2.0 IP, 3 K, 2 BB) whiffed Britton for the second out. Maddox took over on the mound and struck out Norris to bring MSU’s runners left on base total to 13.

 

Shafer started the bottom of the inning with a walk, snapping a stretch of seven-consecutive batters retired by Mitchell (3.1 IP, 1 K, 1 BB). Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) greeted senior Caleb Reed with his fourth sacrifice hit of the season to move Shafer to second base. After a strikeout of Ramjit, Reed (0.2 IP) was replaced by Lindgren, who struck out Fontana to keep the stalemate.    

 

Maddox made a tremendous defensive play on a bunt by Frost to record the first out in the eighth and then had Frazier foul out and Stark strike out. Zunino bashed a 2-1 pitch from Lindgren into the left-field bleachers for what turned out to be his second game-winning hit in Florida’s last three victories.

 

The Gators begin a season-ending road trip at Samford (33-18/19-10 SoCon) on Tuesday night before wrapping up the SEC schedule starting on Thursday night at Auburn (28-23/12-15 SEC).

 

Game Notes

·         Florida improved to 6-3 in SEC series this season and has taken its last three regular-season series against Mississippi State.

·         Twenty-one of Florida's 38 victories have been come-from-behind.

·         The Gators are now 18-10 against ranked teams this season.

·         Today was senior Preston Tucker's 250th game, three shy of Josh Adams' school record of 253.

·         Sophomore Karsten Whitson's total of four strikeouts was a season high.

·         After drawing two walks today, junior Mike Zunino now has 20 on the season.

·         Twenty-one of Zunino’s 41 career homers have come with no one on base.

·         The Gators used six different pitchers, three in the fifth inning.

·         Florida’s pitching corps registered 10 strikeouts and surrendered a season-low three hits.

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