Benches clear as Florida baseball tops No. 1 FSU

Florida Gators baseball has been up-and-down this season but pulled off its second-straight victory over the top team in the nation on Tuesday when it fought through a bench-clearing scuffle and took down the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles 4-1 at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL.

Florida, which also beat Florida State 3-1 in Gainesville, FL last Tuesday, clinched the regular-season series over its in-state rival. The Gators (16-9) and Seminoles (19-5) will play the last contest in their three-game series in Tallahassee, FL on April 8.

It did not take long for UF to get on the board as junior second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/2, R, 2 BB) walked to open the bottom of the first and scored four batters later when junior first baseman Braden Mattson singled to right field.

The Gators boosted their advantage with two more runs in the sixth. Mattson (2/4, RBI, R, SB) singled to open the frame, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a throwing error by pitcher Peter Miller, who corralled a sacrifice bunt from junior right-handed starter and designated hitter Justin Shafer but let it get away on a throw to first. Shafer scored unearned as freshman third baseman John Sternagel reached on a fielder’s choice with one out, and UF ended the inning leading 3-0.

Things got testy in Jacksonville two innings later when FSU left fielder D.J. Stewart hit a dribbler down the first-base line and collided with Florida sophomore lefty reliever Danny Young, who tried to field the ball in the base path but dropped it before Stewart arrived. UF junior 1B Zach Powers took offense to Stewart’s trucking of Young and met him chest-to-chest beyond the bag. Stewart responded by shoving Powers, and the benches cleared with both teams pushing and shoving.

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Florida baseball tops USF 7-2 in season opener

There is plenty of pressure on No. 1 Florida Gators baseball this year, but the team looked at ease Friday night as they opened the 2011 season with a dominant 7-2 victory over the South Florida Bulls at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Fueled by six scoreless innings from sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, Florida (1-0) shut out USF (0-1) for the first eight innings of the game. Johnson (1-0) only faced 18 batters, struck out and allowed two singles.

The Gators scored all of their runs in two innings, posting three in the third and four more in the fifth.

With the bases loaded on three consecutive singles in the third, junior right fielder Preston Tucker hit a fourth to left field, scoring freshman third baseman Zach Powers for Florida’s first run of the season. Sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox followed with a deep sacrifice fly to right field to score sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, and Johnson’s RBI double to right center on the next at bat allowed senior second baseman Josh Adams to cross the plate for the inning’s final run.

Back up at bat in the fifth, UF used a a two-run homer by Tucker with Fontana on third to jump ahead 5-0. A few batters later, senior left fielder Bryson Smith stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and hit a two-RBI single to the third base side to score both sophomore catcher Mike Zunino and Johnson.

Relieved in the seventh, Johnson was supported by back-to-back shutout innings from junior right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and freshman RHP Jonathon Crawford. The Gators’ 2010 ace, junior LHP Alex Panteliodis, came in to close out the game but ended up allowing three hits and two earned runs – including a solo shot to right by Bulls RF James Ramsay – before notching the final out.

Tucker finished the game 3-for-5 with three RBI and was a triple away from the cycle. Fontana (4-5) scored two runs while earning a career-high four hits.

With the victory, Florida won its 16th consecutive game at McKethan Stadium, and head coach Kevin Sullivan improved to 4-0 in season openers. The Gators are back on the field Saturday with sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (8-4, 3.24 ERA in 2010) on the mound for the second of the three-game series. The contest will begin at 4 p.m. and will be available live on GatorVision.tv.

Photo Credit: Brad McClenn/The Gainesville Sun

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