Friday May 18, 2012No. 3 Florida Baseball Secures Series Win At Auburn, 10-1
A 12-hit, three-homer offensive attack and the dominant pitching of junior left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) powered No. 3 Florida (40-15/18-11 SEC) to a series-clinching 10-1 victory over Auburn (29-26/12-17 SEC) on Friday night at Plainsman Park. With the triumph, the Gators reached the 40-win plateau for the 21st time in school history and the school-record fourth-consecutive season under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
The Gators will enter the final day of the regular season with a chance at the SEC title, as they are a half game behind South Carolina (39-14/18-10 SEC) and are tied with LSU (41-14/18-11 SEC) and Kentucky (41-14/18-11 SEC). Florida will send sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (3-0, 3.33) to the mound against Tiger senior Derek Varnadore (3-7, 5.07) in tomorrow’s series finale at 2 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks and Tigers square off in Columbia at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU, while the Wildcats wrap up their series at Mississippi State (33-21/15-14 SEC) at 3 p.m. ET.
Johnson (6-4) matched his season and career high with a seven-inning stint in which he allowed just two singles and an unearned run, with seven strikeouts and two walks. The Gator pitching staff has allowed five singles over the first two games to the league’s top offense. Junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) (2-for-4 ) clubbed a three-run homer as part of a four-run first inning, senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) went 3-for-5 with a two-run dinger in the sixth, and junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) had a solo shot to start the third.
The Gators sent nine batters to the plate in the first inning against freshman Daniel Koger (3-5) and tallied four runs on three hits, highlighted by a three-run homer by Ramjit. Senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) drew a one-out walk and Tucker followed with a ground-rule double to left field when the ball rolled underneath a bench and was ruled to be a dead ball by the umpires. Zunino walked on four pitches to load the bases and Johnson lofted a sacrifice fly to straightaway center field to score Pigott. Ramjit bashed Koger’s initial offering over the right-field fence to expand the lead to 4-0 on his fifth homer of the season, all in SEC play. Ramjit’s round-tripper was his first since April 15 at Tennessee.
Florida tacked on three more runs on four hits in the third inning to build a 7-0 advantage. Zunino opened the frame with his SEC-leading 15th homer to right field to give the visitors a five-run cushion. Johnson then beat out an infield single, ending the night for Koger (2.0 IP, 6 R, 5 H). Ramjit greeted junior Slade Smith with a base-hit into center field and freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) was plunked to load the bases with none out. Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) legged out an infield hit to score Johnson with the sixth run and freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) hit into a 6-4-3 double play that brought in Ramjit.
Johnson retired the first two Tigers in the home part of the stanza but then issued consecutive walks to sophomore Zach Alvord and sophomore Jay Gonzalez. A fielding error by Tobias on a grounder by senior Creede Simpson enabled Alvord to score but Johnson prevented further trouble by having junior pinch hitter Patrick Savage fly out to right field.
Sophomore Ryan Tella reached on a throwing error by Turgeon to begin AU’s fourth and Johnson had senior Justin Bryant line out to left field. Tella moved into scoring position with a stolen base and Johnson responded by striking out junior Mitchell Self and having sophomore Blake Austin fly out.
Sophomore Dillon Ortman replaced Smith (2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R) prior to the fifth and Johnson (2-for-3) led off with a single to right field. The right-hander had Ramjit fly out and induced an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play by Turgeon.
The Gators increased their lead to 10-1 in the sixth, featuring a two-run bomb by Tucker. Shafer roped a one-out single into left center, took second on his third stolen base of the year and went to third on an errant relay throw by the AU catcher. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) earned a free pass for runners on the corners and a wild pitch from Ortman scored Pigott and enabled Fontana to occupy second. After Pigott flew out, Tucker belted his 14th homer to deep center field for his second of the series and the 55th of his career to match Brad Wilkerson (1996-98) for second on the school’s all-time list.
Johnson departed after seven strong innings and the duo of sophomore Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) and freshman Ryan Harris (Jupiter, Fla.) each threw a perfect frame to conclude the contest. The Gators are one win shy of tying the school record for most regular-season wins (41 in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2011). UF advanced to the College World Series in four of the previous five 41-win seasons (’91, ’96, ’98 and 2011).