Prior to taking the field under the lights of McKethan Stadium Friday night, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan posed his team with two options.
UF opted to gel, leading to its eventual 7-0 shutout over LSU.
Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford produced a solid start for Florida from the get-go, pitching through six innings allowing only three hits, two walks and no runs. His outing registered his career-high in innings pitched, striking out four in the process.
“It’s exactly what we needed,” catcher Mike Zunino said of Crawford’s performance. “We were able to get some good at-bats and score some runs, but to be able to put zero up in the first six innings really helped us.”
But it was Zunino’s two-run double in the third inning O’Sullivan dubbed as “huge.”
With two outs and two pitches screaming in his ear, the catcher pulled a fastball into right-center field to score Daniel Pigott and Casey Turgeon, putting UF on the board for the first time in the contest.
“It alleviated a lot of the pressure,” O’Sullivan said of Zunino’s RBI. “It loosened everybody up.”
The Gators showed just how loose they were at the plate again in the seventh inning, posting four additional runs. With bases loaded and an error in left field, designated hitter Brian Johnson reached first base, scoring Pigott. Johnson’s momentum carried over to shortstop Nolan Fontana’s at-bat as Fontana rifled a two-run, RBI single to right field.
Despite LSU’s pitching change from ’10 MLB sixth-round draft pick Kevin Gausman to Joey Bourgeois, UF continued to respond at the plate. Freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue shot an RBI double down the right field line, widening Florida’s lead to 6-0.
In the eighth inning, Zunino notched an RBI double down the leftfield line to raise the Gators 7-0 over the Tigers to even the series and secure the victory.
“This is a big win for us,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was a huge win for us. It helped us get pushed in the right direction.”
UF will take on LSU for the rubber game of the series Saturday at 4 p.m.
In reference to Daniel Pigott’s base running error in the ninth inning Thursday, O’Sullivan said the loss didn’t fall on only Pigott, even though his error was magnified.
“Last night’s mistake was obviously not something that he wanted to do, but we could turn it into the best thing to happen to this team or the worst,” O’Sullivan said. “We had a huge challenge tonight so I’m awfully, awfully proud of the way we battled tonight.”
Florida shuffled through four pitchers in Friday’s contest: Jonathon Crawford, Austin Maddox, Steven Rodriguez and Justin Shafer.
Crawford hit two Tigers during his outing, most notably left fielder Raph Rhymes, who got pegged in the nose, which delayed the game in the seventh inning. Rhymes shook it off and took his spot on first base, but thrown out on a fielder’s choice after the next at-bat for LSU.