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Wednesday May 30, 2012No. 1 Florida Baseball To Open NCAA Gainesville Regional Against Bethune-Cookman

Gainesville, Fla.

No. 1 Florida (42-18) will begin its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance beginning Friday night at McKethan Stadium against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champion Bethune-Cookman (34-25). The contest will be shown live on ESPN3 and can be heard on Country 103.7 The Gator with Jeff Cardozo and Mick Hubert.

 

The Gators drew the top seed at the double-elimination event and will meet the fourth-seeded Wildcats at 7 p.m. on the first day of action. Second-seeded Georgia Tech (36-24) of the Atlantic Coast Conference will tangle with third-seeded College of Charleston (37-20) from the Southern Conference in the opening game at 1 p.m.

 

This season marks the 11th time that McKethan Stadium has hosted NCAA Regional action and the fourth-straight year for the first time in school history. The Gators have gone on to the College World Series from Gainesville on six previous occasions: 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010 and 2011. Florida is 35-10 (.778) on its own turf during NCAA play and swept the Regional round held in Gainesville last season before going 2-1 to claim its own Super Regional. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is 13-3 (.813) in NCAA play at home, 9-0 (1.000) in Regionals and 4-3 (.571) in Super Regionals. He is the first head coach to take the Gators to Regionals in his first five seasons.

 

Considering past history, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Gators will begin the NCAA Tourney in their home state. In its 27 previous Regional appearances, UF had been placed at sites within Florida 21 times (Gainesville-10, Coral Gables-7, Tallahassee-4). The squad has also traveled to North Carolina (1958, 1960, 1962), Minnesota (1977), Texas (2000) and Oklahoma (2004).

 

All 64 teams preparing for NCAA Regionals have the same destination in mind: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. The Gators have reached the “Promised Land” seven times - 1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010 and 2011. UF was a participant in the final CWS held at legendary Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010 and then christened TD Ameritrade Park Omaha by going 3-0 in its bracket to advance to the 2011 CWS Championship Finals, where it fell to South Carolina.

 

The Southeastern Conference placed a nation’s-best eight squads into the 64-team NCAA field. The Gators join LSU and South Carolina as number one seeds who are hosting, while Arkansas (Rice), Kentucky (Purdue), Ole Miss (Texas A&M), Mississippi State (Florida State) and Vanderbilt (NC State) are at venues hosted by the schools listed in parentheses. The Tigers are the seventh national seed and the Gamecocks are eighth.

 

According to statistics guru Warren Nolan, Florida’s strength of schedule was first in the country. The NCAA had the Gators second in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) behind UCLA (42-14). UF sports a 28-13 (.683) record against the 2012 NCAA Tournament field, highlighted by a three-game sweep of No. 3 national seed Florida State (43-15) and a 3-1 (.750) mark against No. 8 seed South Carolina (40-17).

 

2012 marks the first time that Florida has hosted NCAA Regionals in four-straight seasons. In 2009, the Gators defeated Bethune Cookman (8-7) and Miami (Fla.) twice (8-2, 16-5) to take the Regional before dropping both contests to Southern Miss in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional (9-7, 7-6). In 2010, UF handled Bethune Cookman (7-3), Oregon State (10-2) and Florida Atlantic (15-0) to sweep the Regional and then downed Miami (Fla.) twice (7-2, 4-3 in 10 innings) in the Super Regional to punch the program’s sixth ticket to the College World Series. Last year, Florida swept the Regional with wins over Manhattan (17-3) and Miami (Fla.) (5-4, 11-4) before capturing a hard-fought Super Regional against SEC rival Mississippi State (11-1, 3-4, 8-6) to make back-to-back trips to Omaha for the first time in school history.

 

Florida joins South Carolina, UCLA and Virginia as schools who have hosted Regionals during the last four seasons. The Gators were the No. 8 national seed in 2009, No. 3 in 2010, No. 2 in 2011 and No. 1 this year.

 

The winners of the Gainesville and Raleigh Regionals will meet in a best-of-three Super Regional between June 8-11 for the right to reach the College World Series. NC State (39-17) is the top seed and is hosting No. 2 Vanderbilt (33-26), No. 3 UNC Wilmington (38-21) and No. 4 Sacred Heart (25-30).

 

In its NCAA Tourney opener, Florida will be facing Bethune-Cookman for the third time this year on the diamond and the sixth time in NCAA play. The Wildcats are 34-25 overall, won the MEAC title with an 18-5 mark and brought home the conference tourney title.

 

Florida emerged victorious in both encounters with Bethune-Cookman this season at McKethan Stadium. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) was 3-for-4 with three stolen bases and UF scored in seven-consecutive innings to defeat the Wildcats, 10-1, on April 25. Sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) fired four scoreless innings in a pre-determined start, senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) was 2-for-4 and freshman Brandon Sedell (Davie, Fla.) belted his first career homer. The Gators were a season-best 5-for-5 on the basepaths and reached double-digits in runs for the first time since a 10-2 triumph over Vanderbilt on March 16 in its SEC opener. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) added his first two sacrifice flies of the season and senior Jeff Moyer (Winter Springs, Fla.) chipped in with his first run and RBI of the campaign in his first start at third base.

 

Tucker delivered a bases-loaded RBI single to snap a 6-6 tie in the eighth and Johnson added a sacrifice fly later in the inning to lift Florida to an 8-6 win on March 21. Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) threw two scoreless innings to earn the victory, junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-3) belted solo homers in the second and seventh frames and junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) went 3-for-3. Freshman Johnny Magliozzi (East Milton, Mass.) made his collegiate starting debut and scattered five hits over 3.2 innings, giving up three runs, with three strikeouts and a pair of walks. Fontana chipped in with a career-high three sacrifice hits, freshman Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) made his first start behind the plate and was 2-for-5 with an RBI single and senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) was 2-for-4, scored twice and had an RBI double.

 

Gator Bytes

*Florida has captured all 27 meetings against Bethune-Cookman, with 26 at home.

*Kevin O’Sullivan sports a 7-0 record versus the Wildcats, including an 8-7 walk-off win in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Gainesville Regional.

*The Gators are 26-8 (.765) at McKethan Stadium this season and O’Sullivan is 150-34 (.815) at home during his five-year tenure.

*Florida is 15-2 (.882) against in-state opponents this season: 3-0 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State and Miami, 2-0 vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1-0 vs. UCF, Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic, 1-1 vs. North Florida and 0-1 vs. USF.

*Senior Preston Tucker, who will become the program’s all-time leader in games started on Friday night with his 253rd to surpass Josh Adams, has a .361 (35-for-97) career average in 23 NCAA Tournament contests, while junior Mike Zunino is hitting .333 (23-for-69) in 18 games.

*Tucker is 13-for-25 (.520) with 10 RBI, eight runs and three homers in six meetings with B-CU and Zunino is 6-for-14 (.429) with 10 RBI, six runs and four big flies.

*Zunino was named as one of 30 semifinalists for the 2012 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award on Tuesday for the second year in a row. A semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Dick Howser Trophy, Zunino leads the Gators in batting average (.323), total bases (146), RBI (55), doubles (27), sacrifice flies (8) and slugging percentage (.664). He has registered a .993 fielding percentage, with three errors in 452 chances, and has thrown out almost a third of the runners who have attempted to steal on him.

*Senior righty Greg Larson’s next appearance will break a tie for second on the school’s all-time list with Darren O’Day at 117. Larson’s next time on the mound in NCAA play will be his 13th appearance, moving him past Connor Falkenbach (2002-05) and into No. 1 on the Gator chart.

*Junior Hudson Randall has a 3-1 record in seven career NCAA starts. Over 45 innings in NCAA play, tied for the most in school history with Tommy Boss (2002-05), the right-hander has totaled 40 strikeouts and issued seven walks. Randall’s 40 K are also a UF standard and his next start will snap a tie with Alex Panteliodis for number one on the school’s list.

*Coming off of his first career complete game, a five-hit gem to oust South Carolina from the SEC Tournament, junior Brian Johnson aims to make his first NCAA Tourney start since June 6, 2010 (seven scoreless innings with six hits, four strikeouts and zero walks in the 15-0 Regional final shutout of Florida Atlantic). The left-hander suffered an injury during the 2011 SEC Tournament and made just one appearance during the NCAA Tournament, a one-inning stint versus the Gamecocks in Omaha.

*Sophomore Jonathon Crawford did not see any action in the postseason last year and picked up the win in Florida’s SEC Tournament opener against Auburn with a career-high nine strikeouts over 5.2 innings in which he permitted two hits and one run.

*All 11 of sophomore Karsten Whitson’s career victories have come at McKethan Stadium, including last season’s NCAA Tourney lid-lifter for the Gators against Manhattan.

*Freshman Casey Turgeon enters NCAA action on a career-high six-game hitting streak in which he is 8-for-21 (.381) with six RBI, three runs, two doubles and a triple.

*The Gators are expected to start three freshmen in the field during Regionals: Justin Shafer (left field), Josh Tobias (third base) and Turgeon (second base).

*Senior Daniel Pigott ranks second on the squad with 21 multiple-hit games and holds the team lead with 74 hits, edging closer to his career best of 85 hits set last year.

*The Gators are 55-of-81 (.679) on the basepaths this season, led by junior Nolan Fontana (11-for-12), Pigott (9-for-14), Zunino (9-for-10) and Turgeon (8-for-11).

*Fontana joined Matt den Dekker (2008-10) as the only players in school history to be named to the SEC’s All-Defensive Team in three-consecutive years. A model of consistency, the shortstop hit .287 as a freshman, .289 as a sophomore and is at .290 in his junior campaign.

*Florida starting pitchers are 24-8 with a 3.33 ERA and have 213 strikeouts and 67 walks in 281 innings.

*The Gator bullpen is 18-10 with 16 saves and a 2.45 ERA this season, with 238 strikeouts and 58 walks in 257 innings.

*Thirty-nine of Florida’s 67 homers have come at home, where the squad has a .274 batting average. Zunino has a .369 clip at McKethan Stadium, with 33 RBI and nine dingers this season, while Tucker is at .300 with 30 RBI and 10 homers.

*The trio of Larson (4-0, 1.84), Randall (4-0, 2.57), Steven Rodriguez (3-0, 2.14) and Whitson (3-0, 2.87) account for 14 of the Gators’ 26 wins in Gainesville in 2012.

*Zunino’s two-run blast against South Carolina last Friday ended a three-game drought without a homer for the Orange and Blue.

*With 12 saves in 13 opportunities, junior Austin Maddox needs one more save to tie the school’s single-season mark held by Danny Wheeler (1994) and Josh Fogg (1998). Maddox’s last save came on April 27 against Arkansas.

*Rodriguez leads the pitching staff with 77 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. He saw time in six of the Gators’ 11 NCAA games last year, totaling 8.1 innings and racked up 11 K.

*UF is 23-8 (.742) against non-ranked opponents and 19-10 (.655) versus top-25 foes this season.

*Twenty-one of UF’s 42 victories have been come-from-behind. Last season, 20 of the Gators’ school-record 53 wins came after they were trailing.

*Florida’s pitching staff has not surrendered any round-trippers in the last seven games since yielding a season-high three to Samford on May 15.

*The Gator pitching corps has permitted three runs or less in 13 of their last 16 outings.

*Florida is 33-3 (.917) when leading after six innings, 34-1 (.971) ahead after seven innings and 37-1 (.974) when leading after eight innings.

*The Gators are 2-12 (.143) when trailing after six innings, 2-15 (.118) behind after seven innings and are 1-15 (.063) when trailing after eight frames.

*The victory over South Carolina last Friday night, its third over the Gamecocks in four meetings this season, boosted UF’s record against ranked opponents to 19-10 (.655). Even more impressive is that O’Sullivan’s club is 12-4 (.750) versus top-10 foes.

 

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