In a strange game that included their starting pitcher being knocked out in the first inning, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (43-16) was forced into an elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament after dropping a close 4-3 decision to the Georgia Bulldogs (31-29) in the semifinal round of the event.
The top of the first was a tough inning for Florida, which saw sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson get taken off on a stretcher after giving up two earned runs. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino, who got his leg tangled with the batter while attempting to pick off a runner trying to steal second, stumbled and instead threw the ball into the back of the head of a crouching Johnson.
Johnson (0.2 IP, ER, 2 H, 2 K) was promptly brought to the hospital and deemed alert and responsive though he did have a headache and continued to undergo further tests. He was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding) and returned to the team hotel well before the game concluded.
Junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani replaced Johnson on the mound, and junior Tyler Thompson was chosen to take his place in the lineup at designated hitter.
The Gators got out of the top portion of the inning and tied the game up in the bottom frame. With sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-2, R, BB) and junior second baseman Preston Tucker (0-3, R, BB, SB) on base via walks, Thompson (1-4, 2 RBI) doubled to center to plate both men and erase his team’s deficit.
Georgia re-took the lead in the third, when three consecutive singles scored a run and a sacrifice fly by the next batter plated another to put the Bulldogs up 4-2. Florida responded in the fourth when senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-3, BB) reached on a throwing error allowing junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-4, R, SB) to score from third and the Gators to get within one.
Florida was never able to score the tying run, allowing the Georgia to claim the win.
DeSclafani, who stayed on and pitched the vast majority of the game in Johnson’s stead, put forth a superb effort for Florida. He struck out four, gave up six hits and allowed just two earned runs in 7.2 innings of relief work.
The Gators and Bulldogs will square off in an elimination game Saturday night with the victor facing Vanderbilt in the championship on Sunday at 1 p.m.