GatorZone.com Senior Writer
When the Gainesville Regional field was announced Monday, most pointed to a Florida-Georgia Tech matchup as likely deciding the regional. Both teams cruised to victories in Friday's first round to advance.
So the script played out perfectly heading into Saturday when the No. 1-seed Gators and No. 2 Yellow Jackets clashed. The Gators won, 6-2, behind a 1-2 punch that staggered Georgia Tech and fired up the crowd of 4,584.
The punches played out over two innings and were delivered by two of the Gators' biggest stars. One happened in the bottom of the third inning and the game tied at 1.
Florida starter Hudson Randall thought he had struck out Georgia Tech's Jake Davies to end the inning with a runner on first. Davies swung at the pitch, fouled tipped it, and Gator catcher Mike Zunino appeared to have held onto it.
Home plate umpire Mike Morris motioned strikeout and the Gators returned to the dugout. That's when the umps huddled up to discuss the play and called the Gators back onto the field.
"It was confusing,'' Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "You just don't see that very often. The bottom line is they got the call right. It certainly got the crowd into it."
Randall handled the unusual situation the best he could, returning to the mound with a 1-2 count on Davies, the ACC Tournament MVP a week ago and Georgia Tech's cleanup hitter. The first pitch was a ball. Davies then fouled back-to-back pitches off.
Randall's fourth pitch was a change-up that Davies swung at and missed. No confusion this time – the inning was over and the crowd roared its approval.
"I didn't want to give up any more runs,'' Randall said. "I thought Mike caught it, too. They said he didn't and you've got to live with that. It worked out well for us because I was able to go out there and get the strikeout and Mike hit a home run."
Randall just gave away the second punch.
Shortly after racing to the dugout fired up over Randall's strikeout of Davies, Zunino discarded his catcher's gear, grabbed his bat and strode to the plate to face Georgia Tech ace Buck Farmer.
Zunino drilled a fastball Farmer said he left "up and away" high into the air toward deep center field. Yellow Jackets outfielder Kyle Wren eventually ran out of room as Zunino's 17th homer gave Florida a 2-1 lead to lead off the fourth.
"After that whole controversy, [Randall] came out and did what he had to do and made a great pitch and was able to get the out,'' Zunino said. "I just wanted to carry over momentum. I just love to try and get everyone going, whether it's with the pitching staff or in the lineup.
"I was just happy I was leading off that inning. I wasn't going up there to try and hit a home run."
But he did and the Gators were jacked, scoring two more runs before the inning was over. Preston Tucker's towering home run over the scoreboard in right field in the top of the ninth capped Florida's win.
The Gators stayed in the winner's bracket and will face the Georgia Tech-College of Charleston winner on Sunday at 6 p.m.
A rematch with Georgia Tech is entirely possible, which could be interesting considering some of the tension Saturday in the wake of the turn of events at the end of the third, start of the fourth.
Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall was ejected in the fifth inning after another confusing play, this one when Florida's Nolan Fontana slid into second base on a ground ball to short. Georgia Tech shortstop Mott Hyde's throw sailed wide of second baseman Thomas Smith to allow Fontana to reach on the error.
Hall came out to argue and was ejected. He offered this statement after the game:
"The umpire told me 'time out' was called because both the runner [Fontana], and Thomas Smith, were banged up on the play,'' Hall said. "Their player thought he was out, and was leaving the base when time was called. I felt he [the umpire] bailed the runner out by calling time, and I told him he should not have done that."
Georgia Tech pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar took over managing duties after Hall's ejection. He credited Randall's performance as the primary difference in snapping the Yellow Jackets' six-game win streak.
Randall gave up eight hits over 5 2/3 innings but only one run. His most important pitch was the change-up that struck out Davies.
"I didn't have my best stuff, but you rarely do,'' Randall said. "I was just battling out there. They are free swingers. They were swinging it pretty good, early and often in the count. I was just letting the defense work for me."
The defense did its job. So did Randall and Zunino in a sequence that changed the tone of the game.
"It was very emotional on both sides,'' O'Sullivan said. "It felt like a Friday night game in our league. I think the home run by Mike after we had to get thrown back on the field there kind of changed momentum for us. Momentum is a big thing."