Mike Zunino powers Gators past Bethune-Cookman

After belting out three doubles Sunday against Ole Miss, sophomore catcher Mike Zunino continued to provide fireworks at the plate for the Florida Gators (35-10, 17-4 SEC) Tuesday night in an 11-0 win over Bethune Cookman (29-20).

He didn’t wait long, either.

With Preston Tucker on first base, Zunino blasted the second pitch to left field. It clanged off the right side of the left-field foul pole to put Florida up 2-0 early.

“We always try to hop on [other] teams first,” Zunino said. “It worked like that today. I got one to hit, and I was able to jump on it.”

Going back to Sunday, Zunino is 7-8 at the plate with two homers, three doubles and 11 RBI after going 3-4 at the plate with a career-high seven RBI against Bethune-Cookman.

Bryson Smith scored in the third inning after hitting a leadoff double, stealing third and then coming home on a wild pitch.

Zunino blasted his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth.

Fontana led off the inning for the Gators with a stand-up, leadoff triple off the wall in right-center field. Bryson Smith got aboard on a sharply hit ball to third, as the third baseman tried to tag Fontana and was late with the throw to first.

Preston Tucker hit an RBI infield single to shortstop to score Fontana, putting Florida up 4-0 and setting up Zunino’s base-clearing bomb.

Down in the count 0-2, Zunino ripped a pitch right over the heart of the plate into the left-field bleachers to put Florida up 7-0.

He notched two more RBI for Florida as the Gators plated another four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

After Josh Adams struck out to lead off the inning for Florida, Vickash Ramjit got on with a single to center field. Daniel Pigott doubled to left and Nolan Fontana walked to load the bases.

Bryson Smith brought home Ramjit and Pigott with a two-RBI single to left field to make it 9-0 Florida. Preston Tucker drew a walk to load the bases for Zunino.

Zunino again went down quickly in the count 0-2. On the third pitch, he lined a two-RBI single up the middle to put the Gators up 11-0 late in the game.

“Mike’s been swinging the bat really good,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He had another great night tonight. He’s swinging the bat good. I’d like to sit here and tell you I’m surprised, but I’m not. He works hard, and he’s a really good player. He’s probably our most valuable player up to this point.”

The win for Florida snapped a four-game losing streak in mid-week games. Florida was just 3-5 in Tuesday night games heading into the game against Bethune-Cookman.

O’Sullivan credited improved pitching with the win, as six different pitchers saw action and gave up just five hits, while recording 10 strikeouts.

Junior Alex Panteliodis (3-1) picked up the win for the Gators after going 4.1 innings and recording five strikeouts and no walks. He gave up three hits.

“Felt really good tonight,” Panteliodis said. “Everything was working. It felt good just keeping the ball in play. I had a couple of rough outings before, but I’ve just got to get back on track and I felt tonight was a really good job.”

Ryan Gonzalez (0-3) picked up the loss for Bethune-Cookman after giving up six runs on six hits in four innings pitched.

With Bethune-Cookman out of the way, the Gators turn to what will likely be the deciding stretch in the SEC race.

“We’re going to have a tough place to go to in Arkansas,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s one of the tougher places to play in this league. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us, no question.”

The renewed hitting through the heart of the lineup, led by Zunino, bodes well for the Gators. Things seem to be clicking at the right time.

The versatility of having so many players hitting well has allowed O’Sullivan to flip the order based on whether Florida faces a right-handed or left-handed pitcher.

Florida’s lineup has fed off the approach.

“As a team we feel good, I feel good,” Zunino said. “We’re ready to go into Arkansas for a big weekend. It’s a big stretch on the road, two big SEC weekends. We’re really focused and we’re ready to go. We’re comfortable at the plate and our pitching’s on point.”

The Gators return to action Thursday for a three-game series against the Arkansas Razorbacks (29-13, 10-11 SEC) in Fayetteville. The series opener will start at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.