TAMPA — The still No. 1-ranked Florida Gator baseball team returned to its winning ways after a shocking 7-0 home loss to Georgia Southern on Tuesday night.
Florida visited and defeated the South Florida Bulls 8-1 on Wednesday night in front of 3,211, the largest home crowd in Bulls history. The Gators won to push their record to 11-2 on the season on a comfortable but gusty night at a stadium that they had never been to before.
“I thought the atmosphere was very good,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought it was a good test for our guys.”
Wind was a factor early on at the new USF Baseball Stadium, which was hosting just its eighth game ever. It gave Gator first baseman Austin Maddox the Gators’ first error of the game in the first inning when he could not track a high pop fly from Bulls first baseman Todd Brazeal.
The Bulls (5-7) threatened to score when Brazeal attempted to stretch Sam Mende’s ensuing double into a run, but he was thrown out by left fielder Daniel Pigott to end the inning.
Brazeal was thrown out again by a Gator outfielder in the third when right fielder Preston Tucker caught him trying to tag from second to third on a pop fly.
A wild second inning saw a combined 13 batters come to the plate, three home runs, and Bulls starting pitcher Junior Carlin striking out to leave the bases loaded with Bulls.
After seeing his team’s first five batters retired in order, left fielder Pigott hit a double to right that was followed by back-to-back homers by Mike Zunino and Tyler Palmer.
“We worked on our approach this week and just tried not to do too much,” Pigott said.
The Gators took a three-run lead into the bottom of the second, but the Bulls responded with a homer of their own, this one by right fielder James Ramsay.
Ramsay’s homer brought the raucous USF crowd to its feet, but the thrill wouldn’t last long. Starting pitcher Junior Carlin struck out with the bases loaded to leave the Bulls wondering what could have been in the second.
That sentiment of lost hope would last throughout the remaining seven innings for the Bulls.
After the second, Gators starting pitcher Alex Panteliodis settled in, giving up just one hit in his remaining three innings of work. He finished with four strikeouts and the win in his first start of the season.
Panteliodis’ start was something of a homecoming for the junior left-hander. He played high school baseball at Tampa’s Alonso High School.
“It’s really nice,” Panteliodis said. “All of my family is here.”
The Gators bullpen kept his momentum going, spreading out three hits over the game’s final four innings. Tommy Toledo, Matt Campbell and Austin Maddox combined to finish out the victory for the Gators.
For the Bulls, the opposite was true. After Carlin left the game with a 3-1 deficit in the fifth, the USF bullpen managed to give up five runs on seven hits.
Four of those runs came from a sixth inning two-run homer by Pigott and an eighth-inning two-run pinch hit single by Zack Powers.
“He threw me a changeup that took the count to 3-1, and then he gave me a good fastball to hit,” Pigott said.
The game was a match-up of two starting pitchers who haven’t actually started a game in a while.
Panteliodis had not started a game since the opening game of the last year’s College World Series while Tuesday night was Carlin’s first start since 2008.
“That’s the start we’re looking for from [Panteliodis],” O’Sullivan said. “Hopefully he continues to build on this one.”
Carlin threw as many innings in his Tuesday night loss as he has all season up to this point.
The Gators will have Thursday off before they begin a three-game series against Rhode Island at the Univ. of Fla. Friday-Sunday in Gainesville.
With Wednesday night’s win, the Gators swept their four-game season series with the Bulls.
For USF, Thursday will be a day off after a stretch of eight games in as many days. The Bulls begin a three-game home series against Evansville on Friday night.
Gator Country reporter Bryan Holt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/BryanHoltGC.