No. 1 Florida baseball hosts defending National Champion No. 4 South Carolina in weekend series

Riding the crest of a 10-game winning streak, the longest in Kevin O’Sullivan’s four-year tenure, No. 1 Florida (20-2/3-0 SEC) hosts 2010 NCAA College World Series Champion No. 4 South Carolina (16-4/2-1 SEC) in a three-game series at McKethan Stadium. The teams will meet at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday (FOX Sports Florida) and wrap up the set on Sunday at 1 p.m. (Sun Sports).

The Gators opened league play last weekend with their first-ever sweep at No. 5 LSU, while the Gamecocks rallied from a 4-2 setback in game one to Georgia by defeating the Bulldogs twice in Columbia, 2-1 and 8-3, to claim the series. Already off to the best start in the program’s 97-year existence, UF’s stretch of 10 wins in a row is its longest streak since setting a school record with 14-straight triumphs from Feb. 21-March 14, 2004.

In a meeting of left-handers to begin the weekend, sophomore Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (4-0, 1.53) will oppose Gamecock junior Michael Roth (4-1, 1.34). Johnson has limited opponents to a .168 batting average and has 26 strikeouts in 29.1 innings this season. He did not receive a decision in last Friday’s opener at LSU, when he gave up five hits and two runs over 5.1 innings.

Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (3-0, 0.85) will get the nod in game two against USC junior southpaw Steven Neff (2-0, 2.49). Randall was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday after tossing 6.2 scoreless frames and picking up the win in the 1-0 triumph over LSU that clinched last weekend’s series. The righty has 21 strikeouts and one walk in 31.2 IP and leads the SEC in lowest earned run average.

Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (3-0, 2.52) will start Sunday’s finale against a South Carolina pitcher to be determined. Tied for the team lead in strikeouts with Johnson, Whitson worked 4.2 innings in his SEC debut last Sunday at LSU, giving up six hits and three runs (two earned).

After dropping two of three games at No. 17 Ole Miss last March, the Gators have taken league series from No. 17 Vanderbilt (2-1), Tennessee (2-1), Kentucky (2-1), No. 4 Arkansas (2-1), No. 9 LSU (3-0), Alabama (2-1), Georgia (3-0), No. 6 South Carolina (2-1) and No. 5 LSU (3-0). The stretch of eight-straight weekend triumphs last year in conference play was the longest for the Orange and Blue since the league went to a 30-game regular-season format starting in 1996.

Florida completed a two-game sweep of visiting Winthrop on Wednesday with a 10-0 shutout after dominating the Eagles by a 22-5 score on Tuesday night. The Gators batted a scorching .449 (35-for-78) with six doubles, five homers and two grand slams and held a 32-5 scoring advantage in the two contests. Senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) went 5-for-6 (.833) with three runs and a homer, while sophomores Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (.667) and Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (.625) each belted his first grand slam as part of the 24-hit onslaught in game one.

Sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (1-0) collected his first victory of the year in the opener by working 3.1 innings in which he gave up three hits and two runs while working on a pitch count. Junior lefty Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) 2-0) threw a season-high six scoreless frames on Wednesday and was followed to the hill by senior Matt Campbell (Tampa, Fla.) (1.0 IP, 1 H), freshman Keenan Kish (Worcester, Pa.) (1.0 IP, 0 H), freshman Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) (0.1 IP, 2 K) and junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) (0.2 IP, 1 K). Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (.333) had a solo homer and an RBI double as part of a seven-run sixth-inning outburst and was 3-for-4 as UF improved to 15-1 at home. Adams chipped in with three RBI.

The Gator pitching staff has twirled five shutouts in 22 games, exceeding the three donuts in 64 games last year and matching the total of five last done in 1996. The school record for shutouts in a season was 10 in 1970, when head coach Dave Fuller’s squad was 27-17. Entering this year, Florida had totaled six shutouts since Coach O’Sullivan took over.

Fans will get to see two of the elite pitching staffs in the country on display this weekend. Florida leads the SEC with a 2.26 earned run average, with South Carolina ranking fourth in the league at 2.93. The Gators pace the conference in fewest runs allowed (60), fewest earned runs allowed (50) and fewest walks allowed (36), while the Gamecocks are tops in fewest hits allowed (144) and second in opposing batting average (.221).

Last season, Florida secured its 11th SEC crown in school history and league-best 20th divisional championship by capturing the first two games at No. 6 South Carolina in the final series of the regular season. UF had not won a series in Columbia since 1996. In game two, Adams snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning as Florida clinched its first SEC title since 2005 with a 5-2 victory. Adams led UF with a .462 (6-for-13) performance against the Gamecocks, drove in five runs and had back-to-back three-hit games to complete the series.

Rodriguez earned his first career win by working 1.1 scoreless innings in which he registered three strikeouts and Kevin Chapman nailed down the victory with 1.2 scoreless and hitless innings to collect his 10th save, second in as many nights. Chapman closed Thursday’s contest with two scoreless innings as UF posted a thrilling 3-2 victory in the opener of the three-game series. Jeff Barfield earned the win after yielding one run over 2.2 innings with a season-high four strikeouts, while Rodriguez came in and registered three outs in the seventh after Whit Merrifield had a leadoff single. Chapman picked up his ninth save by working the final two innings, not surrendering any hits or runs and totaling a pair of strikeouts. The Gators were able to hand USC’s Blake Cooper his first loss after 10-consecutive triumphs. Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) opened the scoring in the third inning by leading off with his second homer of the campaign and Tucker chipped in with a run-scoring single. Tucker went 4-for-9 (.444) over the three outings. Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) singled in the first and doubled in the third for his eighth multiple-hit game of the season…He added a single in the seventh to match his season best of three hits in an outing, set at USF on April 21. South Carolina avoided the sweep with an 11-6 victory in the series finale. Adams went 3-for-5 and Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) was 2-for-4 in his first collegiate start at shortstop.

In the Gamecocks’ most recent visit to Gainesville, between April 24-26, 2009, Florida notched its first sweep of South Carolina in 12 years at McKethan Stadium. UF had not taken all three games from the Gamecocks since April 25-27, 1997, and improved its home record to 24-6 (.800) on its way to a 30-10 (.750) finish. Avery Barnes was the catalyst for the triumphs over the Gamecocks, going 8-for-13 (.615) with six runs after being moved back into the leadoff spot .He was 2-for-4 with two runs and tied the game in the fifth inning with an RBI single on Friday as Gators overcame a 2-0 deficit and posted a 9-4 triumph. Barnes led off Saturday’s game with a homer and went 3-for-4 with two runs, a sacrifice bunt and his 10th stolen base as UF clinched its first series win over USC since 2005 with an 8-3 decision. In the finale, he opened the contest with a single that jump-started a four-run first inning and went 3-for-5 with a pair of runs.

Billy Bullock saved the final two victories over the Gamecocks, giving him eight saves on the season. Later named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the third time, Tucker hit .462 (6-for-13) against South Carolina and delivered a pair of RBI singles in the first game. On Saturday, the rookie was 3-for-5 and drove in two runs. The Gator pitching staff registered a 2.00 ERA in the series, the offense batted .364 (36-for-99) and out-scored USC by a 26-12 margin. Stephen Locke captured his third-straight start with a strong effort in the opener. Over a season-high 8.1 innings, the southpaw yielded six hits and two earned runs and matched his season best of six strikeouts. Tony Davis raised his mark to 5-0 with a pair of scoreless innings on Saturday in relief of starter Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 K)…Holding a 4-3 lead in the seventh, UF used a two-out, two-run double by Brandon McArthur to create breathing room. Adams (3-for-5) tallied four RBI and scored twice on Sunday and Panteliodis surrendered one earned run over 5.1 innings to earn his first SEC victory.

Gator Bytes

* Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is 6-4 (.600) against South Carolina, 3-0 in Gainesville (1.000), 3-3 (.500) in Columbia and 0-1 (.000) at the SEC Tournament.

* Florida has taken its last two series versus USC – 2-1 in Columbia last season (3-2, 5-2, 6-11) and 3-0 in Gainesville in 2009 (9-4, 8-3, 9-5). Prior to this stretch, the Gators had dropped three series in a row to the Gamecocks (3-0 in 2006, 2-1 in both 2007 and 2008).

* Since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992, UF has never won three-consecutive series against its Eastern Division counterpart (also won 3-0 in 1996 & 1997).

* The Gators are 7-1 (.875) against top-25 opponents this season, 3-1 (.750) versus members of the top-five.

* O’Sullivan sports a 7-2 (.778) record against top-five teams at McKethan Stadium, 13-5 (.722) versus top-10 squads and is 27-10 (.730) against top-25 clubs.

* As of the report released on Monday, the Gators’ average attendance of 4,014 ranks eighth in the country this week, while their total of 56,200 spectators ranked 10th. The top three schools by average hail from the SEC (LSU, 10,868; Ole Miss, 7,990; South Carolina, 7,417).

* Florida’s starting pitchers are 14-1 with a 1.93 ERA this year with 94 strikeouts and 20 walks in 111.2 innings. The Gators’ relievers are 6-1 with six saves and a 2.68 ERA in 87.1 innings, with 88 K and 16 walks.

* Junior Daniel Pigott ranks second in the SEC with a .432 average and leads Florida with 13 doubles and 11 multiple-hit games.

* UF is 14-for-35 (.400) pinch-hitting, led by junior Jeff Moyer (4-for-8, .500), sophomore Kamm Washington (4-for-7, .571) and freshman Tyler Palmer (2-for-2, 1.000).

* The Gators hold a 155-60 scoring advantage, led by a 27-3 disparity in the sixth inning. UF has the edge in every inning except the ninth, when it has been out-scored, 7-5.

* Florida is an unblemished 16-0 when scoring first and also 16-0 when out-hitting its foe.

* The Gators have played error-free baseball in 10 games (10-0) and their fielding percentage of .976 ranks fourth in the SEC.

* According to the league’s statistics in overall games, UF’s .328 batting average is second behind Tennessee (.337) and its staff ERA of 2.26 is first, ahead of Vanderbilt (2.42) and Ole Miss (2.71).

* Sophomore Mike Zunino enters the series on a 10-game hitting streak, coinciding with 10 UF wins. He is 15-for-36 (.417) with 14 RBI, 12 runs, four stolen bases, three homers and three walks in that span. Zunino’s seven multiple-RBI games leads UF and his career-best hitting streak of 12 games occurred from April 21-May 15, 2010.

* Sophomore Nolan Fontana has an eight-game hitting streak, matching his career-long, in which he is 15-for-30 (.500), with 11 RBI, 10 runs, nine walks and six extra-base hits (three doubles, two triples, grand slam).

* Florida has totaled 55 two-out RBI, including 12 by junior Daniel Pigott and eight by senior Josh Adams. The Gators have a .307 (74-for-241) clip with two down.

* Sophomore Brian Johnson had a stretch of 20.2 scoreless innings to begin the season, putting him third on the Gators’ career list. The school record for consecutive scoreless innings of 30 is held by Kelly Prior (April 23-May 13, 1966) and a 21-inning stretch during the 1993 season by Marc Valdes rates second.

* Leadoff batters are 2-for-15 (.133) against junior Anthony DeSclafani, who has held opponents to a .172 average. The righty’s three wins have surpassed his season total of two from 2010 and he boasts a strikeout to walk ratio of 17:2.

* Florida is 23-for-34 (.676) on the basepaths, as 10 different players have at least one stolen base. Opponents are 15-for-20 (.750) against UF.