Florida Gators win emotional battle
It was just one of those games where players from both teams probably bent a few spoons as they scooped up their Wheaties on Saturday morning.
Players were extra intense throughout Florida’s 6-2 win against Georgia Tech on Saturday in the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.
“(Saturday’s game) was one of those games where both teams are fighting to play the second game on Sunday,” said UF catcher Mike Zunino.
It was Florida vs. Georgia Tech, not Georgia, but the game had the appearance of a heated rivalry.
It was one of those games where players exchanged words early and often.
It was one of those games where Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall was ejected for arguing a call.
It was one of those games where few of the 4,584 in attendance didn’t leave at the end. They stayed to watch the teams shake hands, just in case the usual postgame tradition turned into a brawl.
“It was a very emotional game by both sides,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “It felt like a Friday night game in our league … and I’m sure in their league as well.”
Of course, it also was one of those games that was not without controversy, which pushed Florida and its fans to the edge.
With the score locked at 1-all, UF starter Hudson Randall appeared to record a huge inning-ending strikeout by getting Tech’s Jake Davies to chase a breaking ball low and away.
Home plate umpire Mike Morris deferred to first base umpire Heath Jones, who signaled for strike three. Georgia Tech’s two base runners headed to the dugout, as did all nine of UF’s defenders.
Davies debated with Morris and was promptly joined by Hall, who vehemently argued as well.
All four umpires met in front of home plate, eventually overturning the original call.
That brought O’Sullivan out to argue as his players, as well as fans, boiled to a feverish pitch.
The Yellow Jackets’ base runners trotted back out to their bases. Gators center fielder Daniel Pigott jogged out to his spot while the rest of his teammates — including a now red-faced Mike Zunino — stayed in the dugout.
Finally, the Gators returned to the field more fired up than ever.
“It was confusing,” O’Sullivan said. “You just don’t see that very often. The bottom line is (the umpires) got the call right.”
Davies whiffed a Randall changeup to strikeout, sending the stands into a blue and orange sea of glee. The crowd was as loud as it was for the final out of Jonathon Crawford’s no-hitter on Friday night.
Of course, Zunino was the Gators’ next batter up and he hammered the second pitch — a letter-high fastball — over the left center field fence.
“It certainly got the crowd into it,” O’Sullivan said of his team having to return to the field. “It was a big emotional lift for us … And I thought Mike’s homerun was a big emotional lift for our team.”
Florida’s Vickash Ramjit was one of the first to meet Zunino at home. Ramjit then let out a scream as the huddle broke that may have been heard all the way back in his hometown of Miami.
Zunino’s homer set the tone for a three-run inning and the Gators would never look back. They also added a two-run home run over the scoreboard in right field by Preston Tucker to create the final margin in the ninth.
“After that whole controversy happened … I just wanted to carry over momentum,” Zunino said. “I was happy I was leading off that inning.”
During the seventh, another one of the many aggressive plays came when Florida’s Nolan Fontana was thrown out at the plate. He apparently kicked GT catcher Zane Evans facemask, resulting in Evans jawing at Fontana as he walked away.
Asked about the “chippy” plays throughout, Evans brought that up.
“It was kind of up and down,” Evans said. “That play with Jake happened and then that right there — it just kind of bothered me a little bit. I didn’t think there was any reason for him to kick my mask. It was a clean play. I didn’t have any problem with it.”
As he rounded first base on his home run trot, it appeared Davies and Zunino traded words.
“I didn’t say anything to (Davies),” Zunino aid. “I respect all of their players. I wouldn’t say anything directly to any of their players.”
As Florida left-fielder Justin Shafer squeezed the final out, Ramjit threw an uppercut with his right arm before hopping across the diamond to high-five and chest bump Tobias, the UF third baseman.
Florida high-fived each other behind the mound, just as they do after each win. Georgia Tech’s players, watching from in front of their dugout, seemed unsure if UF was going to shake hands.
Davies, who sports a Mohawk, even waved his right hand a couple of times at the Gators, motioning as if to say, “Just stay out there. We don’t want to shake your hands anyway.”
He quickly stopped when the Gators headed toward the Yellow Jackets in a show of sportsmanship after a highly intense nine innings of postseason baseball.
Coaches from both side cautiously eyed their players as they shook hands without incident, and Georgia Tech downplayed the postgame scene afterward.
“We had good sportsmanship. We wanted to go through the line,” Evans said before being interrupted by GT assistant Tom Kinkelaar, who filled in for the ejected Hall during the postgame press conference.
Kinkelaar said, “I’ll address that. It was not that at all. When we shook hands, it kind of looked like they were going back to the dugout.”
Ramjit’s aggressiveness led to the Gators’ first run as he stretched a single into a double by hustling to second on a hit into the gap in right-center field. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Tobias before scoring on a deep sacrifice fly to center by Fontana to even the score at 1-all.
Recognizing the hustle, Florida’s savvy fans gave Ramjit a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout after crossing the plate.
“When you get in the playoff time, emotions are high,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m really, really proud of our guys.
“They battled all night.”
It was just one of those games.
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2013 Basketball Commits
|Clermont (Fla.) Montverde Academy|
|Bonifay (Fla) Holmes County|
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