Johnson leads Florida over Georgia Southern

Junior designated hitter Brian Johnson’s hot streak at the plate continued on Monday as the reigning SEC Player of the Week matched a career-high with five RBIs to lead the No. 1 Florida Gators (29-8) over the visiting Georgia Southern Eagles (22-17).

Florida topped Georgia Southern 8-2 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL as Johnson went 2/4 from the plate, hitting a three-run homer in the first and two-RBI double in the seventh to power the Gators to their fourth win in the last five games.

Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson (4-0) picked up the victory on Monday in a short outing, allowing an earned run on four hits while striking out three in 3.0 innings. Four relievers combined to toss seven shutout innings before junior closer Austin Maddox gave up an earned run in the final frame.

UF scored all eight of their runs with two outs and eight of the nine Florida starters registered a hit in the contest. The six Gators pitchers that participated did not walk a single batter in the outing.

Monday’s game was the beginning of a nine-game homestand for Florida. It continues this weekend with a three-game series against Georgia on Friday (7 p.m., CSS), Saturday (7 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (3 p.m., ESPN2).

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida has hit a rough patch

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Here on Wednesday the Florida Gators baseball team still sits atop the recent top 25 polls as the No. 1 team in the country but UF is lucky that ranking came out on Monday because it certainly does not reflect their recent performance.

Florida began their long eight-game road trip by travelling to Columbia, SC for a three-game series in which they managed to squeak out two wins. Then it was down to Jacksonville, FL for a victory over another top-five team in Florida State and things were looking up for UF with a 3-1 start to their trek.

That was until the Gators travelled to Oxford, MS for their second away series in as many weeks. After giving up a run in the final inning of Sunday’s rubber match, Florida had managed only one win against a top-20 opponent in Ole Miss. This disappointing weekend, as you now know, was followed by what can only be described as a lackluster effort against North Florida in Jacksonville on Tuesday.

While the wheels may appear to be falling off, the last few games are relatively typical of any baseball team on the back end of a long road trip. Even though you get to return to Gainesville, FL between games/series, you are going to class and catching up on work that you’ve missed while trying to find some time to relax at home. Sometimes it is tough to wrench up the energy and motivation for what many consider to be “meaningless” mid-week games. This is not a valid excuse, but it happens to every team – college or professional. The four losses may be ugly even if three came to ranked opponents, but it is easy to forget that the Gators beat the Gamecocks on the road twice and followed that up by taking their second game of the season from the Seminoles.

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No. 1 Florida tops No. 4 FSU 4-1 in Jacksonville

A three-run sixth inning led No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (23-2) to a 4-1 victory over the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (21-4) in front of 10,751 fans on Tuesday night at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL. The win was Florida’s second against their in-state rival this season and clinched the three-game season series that is spread over 27 days in three separate locations.

The Gators defeated the Seminoles 9-2 on March 13 and will travel to Tallahassee, FL on April 10 to play the final game of the series.

Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson got the start for UF and began the contest on fire by allowing just one hit over his first three frames. However, Larson (3.2 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 4 K) encountered some resistance in the top of the fourth as a lead-off double came around due to some solid base running and questionable fielding decisions. He was replaced by sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (1.2 IP, H, 2 BB, K), who got the final out of the inning to limit the damage.

Florida stranded pairs of runners on base in the fourth and fifth. Gibson struggled in the top of the sixth, giving up a leadoff walk and a single before throwing two passed balls and an intentional walk to load the bases. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi entered the unenviable situation but was able to force a grounder that the Gators’ defense turned into a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the inning unscathed.

The momentum appeared to swing at that point as Florida capitalized in the bottom of the inning. With two on and two out, freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, 2 RBI, R, BB) lofted a ball just over the center fielder’s head and legged it out into a triple to score both base runners. He reached home one batter later when junior left fielder Vickash Ramjit (2/4, 2 RBI) hit a sharp single to right to give the Gators a 4-1 lead.

Magliozzi (3-0, 0.2 IP) earned the victory as junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 2 K) and junior closer Austin Maddox (S8, 1.0 IP, 2 K) shut the door on FSU.

The victory marked UF’s first over Florida State in Jacksonville since 2007. It was also the first time the Gators had defeated the Seminoles in a regular season series since 2009. Turgeon and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4) each registered their first career triples in the contest.

Florida now has 13 come-from-behind victories in 2012 as well as a 10-2 record against ranked opponents (7-1 against top-10 teams).

The Gators are now halfway through their eight-game road trip and will pick it up on Friday for the beginning of a three-game series against Ole Miss in Oxford, MS.

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No. 1 Florida takes down No. 6 Florida State 9-2

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (16-1) extended their winning streak to 14 games on Tuesday evening (tying a school record) with a 9-2 victory over the No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (14-2) in Gainesville, FL.

The first of three games to be played between the schools over the course of the season (a home-and-home and one neutral site match-up), Tuesday’s contest also set a school record as 6,005 fans entered the gates of McKethan Stadium.

Florida State scored a pair of runs off an error in the top of the third, sending Florida’s freshman left-handed starting pitcher Bobby Poyner (2.2 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K) to the bench early. However, the Gators responded immediately in the bottom of the inning as senior right fielder Preston Tucker smacked a three-run homer to put his team in front.

UF scored another run in the fourth, got on the board with a solo shot from junior shortstop Nolan Fontana in the sixth, plated another in the seventh and put the game out of reach by rallying for three more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Tucker (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and Fontana (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led the way, but Florida also got two RBIs each from senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) and junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-2, 2 BB).

Senior right-hander Greg Larson (3-0) came on for Poyner in the third and earned the victory after just 1.1 innings of work. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 2 K) did the heavy lifting down the stretch, and junior RHP Austin Maddox (S6, 1.1 IP) closed things out by striking out one of the four batters he faced.

The Gators will head back to McKethan Stadium on Wednesday to take on the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Florida will then have one day off before opening conference play with a three-game series against Vanderbilt on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (1 p.m., CSS) and Sunday (1 p.m., FSF) in Gainesville.

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TWO BITS: Gators baseball, softball win three

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (12-1) won their 10th consecutive game with a 15-2 thrashing of the Florida A&M Rattlers (1-12) on Wednesday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman outfielder Justin Shafer (1/2) notched a career-high six RBIs on a double and three sacrifice flies. He also pitched the final frame of the game, striking out the side on 14 pitches. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (3.0 IP, 6 H, K) got the start but gave up two earned runs in his outing, giving senior RHP Greg Larson (2-0, 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K) the opportunity to supplant him and pick up the victory. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/1, 2 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB) was also stellar at the plate, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) picked up the 274th hit of his career on a double in the fifth, tying Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05) for fourth on the school’s all-time list. Florida remains undefeated (17-0) against Florida A&M and will have one day off before hosting Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m. on Sun Sports).

2 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-1, 2-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to 11 games with a doubleheader sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-7, 0-2 SEC) to open Southeastern Conference play on the road in Starkville, MS. Florida defeated Mississippi State 1-0 behind a complete game one-hit shutout by sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-0) in the first game and earned an equally hard-fought 8-5 win in the second contest with freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (4-0) earning the victory and Rogers (S1) picking up the save. Rogers struck out eight in the opening contest but was only supported by three hits from the Gators including what would be a game-winning RBI by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1-3) in the fifth. Freshman RHP Lauren Haeger started the second game but was roughed up for five runs (two earned) on three hits with three walks in just 1.2 innings. Bache (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, K) and Rogers (3.0 IP, H, 3 K) closed the game out as sophomore RF Kasey Fagan (2-3, 3 RBI, BB) led the way at the plate. Haeger (1-3, R, 2 BB) and sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (0-1, R, 2 BB) added a RBI each, and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1-4) drove in two runs with yet another homer. Florida will close out the week by playing a three-game weekend road series at Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon).

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Teddy’s Catch: Florida living up to expectations

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

The end of the Miami series is an appropriate time to take a step back and look at what the No. 1 Florida Gators baseball team has accomplished up to this point early in the season. The Gators have lived up to expectations thus far, passing every test and checking in with a 10-1 record, the sole blemish being a loss in a Sunday game after a series was already clinched to then-No. 16 Cal State Fullerton.

The Gators opened up against the season without the usual cupcake series people are used to seeing in many sports and still walked away by winning two of three games at home. Since their loss to the Titans that first Sunday, UF has reeled off eight-straight wins, including last weekend’s sweep at then-No. 8 Miami.

The reigning SEC Player of the Year, junior catcher Mike Zunino, has kept up his offensive dominance by batting .425 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Florida has eight or nine players capable of hitting above .300, and this consistency throughout the lineup is important as it makes every inning a stressful one for opposing pitchers.

On the mound, junior closer Austin Maddox is making the most noise and looks to have turned into the dominant closer the Gators desperately need. He has already amassed 17 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings.

It should be a relief for fans to see the Florida bats heat up Friday and Saturday down in Miami as they struggled a bit opening weekend against Cal State Fullerton’s quality pitching. The usual suspects like Zunino, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, senior right fielder Preston Tucker, senior left fielder Daniel Pigott and junior first baseman Brian Johnson powered the Gators throughout the weekend but there was also a new face who stepped into the lineup and produced in a big way.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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No. 1 Florida shines in sweep of No. 8 Miami

In their second three-game series against a top 25-ranked opponent this season, No. 1 Florida Gators baseball swept the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, FL thanks to a come-from-behind victory in Sunday’s finale. Florida (10-1), extending their winning streak to eight games with the three victories, has now won 11-straight contests over Miami (8-3) dating back to 2010.

The Gators defeated the Hurricanes 7-5 in the season opener, scoring in five of nine innings and never falling behind once in the game. Florida rallied for single runs in the top of the first, second, third and fifth and used a solo homer by junior catcher Mike Zunino to spark a three-run fourth inning. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (2-0) earned the victory in 5.1 innings, striking out six while allowing four earned runs on seven hits and one walk.

Zunino (4-5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-3, 2 RBI) each knocked in a pair of runs, while junior first baseman/closer Austin Maddox (3-3, RBi, R) was dynamite from the plate and on the mound, notching his third save of the season with seven strikeouts in 3.1 innings.

Miami took the early advantage in Saturday’s contest, hitting a two-run homer off of left-hander Brian Johnson in the bottom of the first and taking a 3-0 lead through three innings. Johnson got a measure of revenge in the top of the fourth, smacking a two-run bomb to right; UF first baseman Taylor Gushue immediately followed with a solo shot, knotting the game at 3-3.

The Hurricanes regained the lead in the bottom of the inning by hitting another two-run dinger of Johnson, who was quickly pulled for senior RHP Greg Larson. The Gators turned up the intensity from there, rallying for five runs in the top of the fifth and crossing the plate at least once in every remaining inning.

Gushue (3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) homered for a second time in the fifth and was matched hit-for-hit by Johnson (4-5, 5 RBI, 2 R). Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-5) crossed the plate three times, and Pigott (4-5) and Zunino (1-6) each scored two runs as well. Larson (1-0) picked up the win in the 13-5 victory by striking out four Miami batters on 51 pitches in 4.2 no-hit innings.

Having already clinched the series with consecutive victories, Florida found themselves in danger of floundering in the finale on Sunday afternoon. Though the Gators got on the board first by plating a run in the top of the second, the Hurricanes bested them with three runs in the bottom of inning, tagging sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford for four hits in the frame. Crawford, starting the first game of his career, regrouped and struck out eight in 4.2 innings but also gave up another earned run (four total) on seven hits with a walk in his appearance.

A solo homer by Fontana reduced Florida’s deficit to a single run in the top of the fifth, but Miami rallied for a matching run in the bottom frame. The Hurricanes repeated that process in the seventh, negating another Gators’ run with one of their own to maintain a two-run advantage heading into the top of the ninth.

With starter Bryan Radziewski already out of the game for UM, E.J. Encinosa entered in the eighth to close out the final 1.2 innings. UF left two on base in the eighth, seemingly putting a major dent in their chances of making a comeback as only three outs remained.

Fontana walked on five pitches to lead off the inning, and Pigott (1-4, RBI, R) soon joined him on base after being hit by Encinosa. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-5) grounded out and advanced the runners, who were both sent home to tie the game when Zunino cleared the bases by doubling to center. Encinosa then imploded even further, advancing Zunino to third on a wild pitch, hitting Gushue on a 3-2 count, allowing Gushue (1-3, R, BB) to move to second and Zunino to score the game-winning run on another wild pitch, and finally walking Maddox (0-4, BB) before being pulled.

Florida crossed the plate twice more before the frame ended, scoring five runs to take an 8-5 lead. Freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (1-0) earned the victory in 1.0 inning of work after coming on in the seventh with two outs, and sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson picked up his first save by striking out the final batter of the game. Zunino (1-4, 2 RBI, BB) and Fontana (2-5, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) led the way for the Gators at the plate on Sunday, concluding an impressive three-game performance for each player.

Florida will begin a 10-game homestand spanning two weeks by hosting Florida Atlantic on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. The Gators will face six non-conference opponents (including Florida State in the first of three scattered games and the Ontario Blue Jays in an exhibition contest) before beginning their SEC slate against Vanderbilt on March 16.

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Tucker sets Florida career RBI record as Gators baseball earns first series sweep of 2012

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (7-1) cruised over the weekend to their first sweep of a three-game series in 2012, defeating the William & Mary Tribe (2-5) by a combined score of 14-5 from Friday-Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida did not trail for a single frame in the series’ first two games, scoring in the bottom of the first inning on Friday, adding a solo home run in the fifth by senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2-4, RBI, R) and rallying for two more runs in the eighth to pull away with a 4-1 victory. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (1-3, R, 2 SB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (0-3) added a RBI each, and sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, R) and freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (2-3, R) also had impressive outings at the plate.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) picked up his first win of the season by striking out four and allowing just one earned run on five hits in 6.1 innings. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S2) came on in the seventh to close out the game, fanning four batters of his in the final 2.2 innings.

The Gators picked up where they left off the next day with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, 2 R, SB) hammering a solo shot in the bottom of the third. He became Florida’s all-time RBI leader with the dinger, amassing a school record 215 runs batted in over 205 games played (at that point). Tucker received a standing ovation from the home crowd, a highlight moment in the young season.

He continued his stellar outing by singling to lead off the bottom of the sixth, following it up by stealing second and eventually coming around to score thanks to a one-out double by Gushue (1-4, RBI, R), who earned his first start at first base. Turgeon (2-3, 2 RBI, R) concluded Florida’s three-run inning with a two-run homer, the first round-tripper of his career in orange and blue.

Junior left-hander Brian Johnson (1-0, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 2 K) pitched six innings of shutout ball but was relieved shortly after giving up a solo bomb in the top of the seventh. Senior RHP Greg Larson pitched the final 2.2 innings in relief, striking out three and walking just one to clinch the victory for Johnson.

Florida fell behind early on Sunday as sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson took the hill to start the game and looked a bit out of sorts. He gave up an earned run on two hits and a walk while only registering two outs before being pulled by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (2-0) and freshman RHP Jonathon Crawford came on in his stead and combined to earn the win by striking out seven and walking two while allowing three hits and two earned runs in the final 5.0 innings of the weather-shortened game.

Tucker (1-3, RBI, R) and Fontana (1-2, 2 RBI, R, BB) each homered in the contest, and the Gators also got solid performances at the plate from freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2-2, 2 RBI, R) and junior 1B Austin Maddox (2-3, R).

UF faces a tough test next weekend, travelling to Coral Gables, FL to take on Miami in a three-game series from Friday-Sunday. Florida will follow that series up with an 11-game home stand, playing from March 6-20 in Gainesville.

Photo Credit: Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

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