Florida sweeps William & Mary

Karsten Whitson was a slim 13 pitches deep before he was pulled from the mound.

In Sunday’s 5-3 series finale against William & Mary, the sophomore right-hander allowed two hits, one run and a walk in the first inning before coach Kevin O’Sullivan put in junior Steven “Paco” Rodriguez to close the inning.

Whitson, who was out most of fall practice due to a groin injury, started the season in Saturday’s spot for the University of Florida’s opening series against Cal State Fullerton. But this weekend, O’Sullivan swapped Brian Johnson and the sophomore in the weekend pitching rotation.

O’Sullivan said it was obvious Whitson wasn’t feeling his best out there.

“Once you get back into the spring, there’s not a whole lot of time,” O’Sullivan said of Whitson. “He threw the ball extremely well in the early part of the spring. I think it’s just normal, early season arm stuff. I don’t see it being anything serious. When you have a special arm like that, you don’t want to take any chances.”

Rodriguez struck out Chris Forsten in the No. 6 hole to move Florida to its offensive pull. Yet, the Tribe’s left-handers still proved to be a feat for the Gators’ bats. Jason Inghram kicked off with a 1-2-3 inning, registering a solid six pitches to the top of the order.

In the second inning, Rodriguez mimicked Inghram’s flow with a 1-2-3 inning as well, striking out two. Yet, the Gators were still struggling to grind it out offensively, as first baseman Austin Maddox was the only player to get on base with his single to right field.

But by the time UF came to the plate in the bottom of the third inning, the batting order fired away. Freshman Justin Shafer was one of four starting freshmen on Florida’s lineup Sunday, holding down left field. Shafer started off hot at the plate with a single after beating out his hit in the infield. Fellow freshman Josh Tobias, who started at third base, posted a sacrifice bunt, putting Shafer on second for junior shortstop Nolan Fontana.

With a 3-1 count, Fontana pulled a two-run home run toward right field to bring the Gators back in the game with the lead 2-1.

“I don’t hit too many,” Fontana said of his home run record. “So when I hit them, I run hard regardless.”

However, while Rodriguez began hard on the mound initially, he struggled when the fourth inning popped off. He walked William & Mary left fielder Tadd Bower. He then allowed a hit for Michael Katz from a single that bounced from Tobias’ glove. Though Forsten singled, Bower marked the first out of the inning after he was thrown out at second.

But when the Tribe’s Sean Aiken came to the plate, the “Paco” who emerged last weekend, began to surface yet again.

The right-hander was called on a balk, tying the game at 2-2. Controlling his anger more so than he did after his Cal State Fullerton ejection, Rodriguez finished the inning with a strike out against shortstop Josh Mason.

UF continued to front aggression offensively as Maddox registered his second single of the game marking his first multiple-hit game of the season. Turgeon fed into the fire with a double right down the right field line but junior Cody Dent came in to pinch run for the freshman because his hamstring was aching a bit. Shafer hit a bomb to left field for a single, reeling in Maddox and Dent to gain the lead again 4-2.

“I finally felt comfortable at the plate,” Shafer said. “Being in this kind of atmosphere, it’s something to get used to from being in high school. I think I did really well today.”

In the fifth inning, Rodriguez had finished his outing on the hill with 62 pitches. Sophomore Jonathon Crawford took the mound. Dent also got in the game, replacing Turgeon at second.

Crawford allowed one hit in the first inning of his outing to William & Mary second baseman Kevin Nutter. Third baseman Ryan Lindemuth reached first on an error by Tobias.

The Gators still proved to be hot in the fifth inning as senior Preston Tucker slugged his fifth homer of the season on 1-0 count, raising the score 5-2. During yesterday’s game, Tucker shattered Brad Wilkerson’s RBI record with his 215th RBI.

However, William & Mary got its hand at a home run in the top of the sixth after Katz slammed one over the right field wall for his first career home run. Crawford had Katz at a 2-1 count prior to his homer. After Crawford bounced back striking out Forsten, Aiken grounded out and rain began to pummel down at McKethan Stadium.

The final score of 5-3 was deemed as final due to the rain and unplayable field conditions. According to NCAA rules, if a team is ahead by the end of the fifth inning, the matchup can be deemed as an official game.

Though UF clutched the sweep against William & Mary, the Tribe fought hard all weekend keeping the games to five runs or less (4-1, 5-1, 5-3). 

“We did enough,” O’Sullivan said of the William & Mary series. “We weren’t really sharp this weekend. We got a lot of things we got to work on, but you have to compliment their pitchers. I thought they did a nice job all weekend.”

The Gators have no midweek games before their series at Miami at 7 p.m. on March 2.

Injury updates

Catcher Mike Zunino didn’t play in Sunday’s game. Freshman Taylor Gushue took over behind the dish after Zunino injured his hamstring trying to steal a base in Saturday’s victory. O’Sullivan said he should be fine for the Miami series.

O’Sullivan said along with Turgeon, a lot of guys on the team are coming off of hamstring injuries.

“Little, nagging stuff,” he said. “I think this is as good a time to not have any midweeks so we could get some guys back to 100 percent.”

Though Whitson is coming off a groin injury from fall, O’Sullivan said he thinks the sophomore pitcher will be fine.

“You’ll see early season stuff with the arm, it just doesn’t bounce back as quick as you want,” he said. “I’m sure he’s just going to be fine. Once again, we want all of our guys to feel like they’re 100 percent. He will be.”