No. 4 Florida baseball holds off Mississippi State, 3-1

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) delivered a two-out, two-run single to snap a 1-1 tie in the seventh to lift No. 4 Florida (26-7/9-3 SEC) past Mississippi State (21-11/5-7 SEC), 3-1, in the rubber match of the teams’ weekend series on Sunday afternoon in front of 6,453 fans at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with one down in the ninth but sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) took over on the mound and retired the final two batters to collect his first career save. The Gators’ 9-3 start to SEC play matches the squad’s best since 1996.

With MSU down to its final three outs, junior Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) entered the ballgame and issued a leadoff single to senior Nick Vickerson before whiffing senior Jonathan Ogden. Freshman Adam Frazier hit a comebacker to the mound that DeSclafani threw away while trying to get the lead runner at second base, resulting in a couple of runners aboard. Senior Jaron Shepherd poked a single into left field to fill the bags and prompt a pitching change. Senior Wes Thigpen greeted Maddox with a liner into right field and sophomore Kamm Washington (Boynton Beach, Fla.) made a tremendous sprawling catch for the out and managed to hold the runners. Facing freshman C.T. Bradford, Maddox was ahead in the count 0-2 and induced a pop-up in foul territory that freshman third baseman Zack Powers (Seffner, Fla.) snagged up against the netting to complete the game.

The Bulldogs had grabbed a 1-0 lead on a bases-loaded, two-out single into left field by Thigpen in the second inning. After freshman Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) had retired the first five batters of the game, Ogden legged out an infield single and Frazier executed a hit-and-run with a single through the left side for a pair of runners aboard. Shepherd walked to fill the sacks and Thigpen delivered a base-hit into left field that scored Ogden. However, junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) gunned down Frazier at the dish to end the inning.

UF threatened with runners on the corners and one down in the third but were held at bay by junior Nick Routt. Junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) opened the frame with a single into center field and moved into scoring position with a one-out stolen base. Powers (2-for-3) singled into shallow left for runners on the corners but Routt answered by striking out sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) and having senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) fly out to right field.

In the bottom of the inning, senior Cody Freeman reached on a one-out single and took second on a throwing error by Powers. Whitson worked out of trouble with consecutive strikeouts of redshirt senior Jarrod Parks and senior Ryan Collins.

An RBI single by Maddox (2-for-4) in the fourth evened the score at 1-1. Sophomores Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) and Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) had back-to-back singles with one down and a base-knock into left field by Maddox put the Gators on the board. Routt kept the contest tied by having Thompson line out to center and Pigott pop up to the catcher.

Although Mississippi State had a prime opportunity to move in front in the fifth after having runners on the corners and one down, Whitson had Freeman ground into an inning-ending double play. Shepherd drew a leadoff walk and Whitson jammed Thigpen and induced an infield fly. After Bradford single through the right side to push Shepherd to third base, Whitson coaxed a grounder from Freeman that Fontana snagged, stepped on second and threw over to first to complete the double play.

Zunino earned a free pass to begin the sixth, ending the afternoon for Routt, who gave up six hits and one run, with five strikeouts and a walk. Sophomore reliever Luis Pollorena picked off Zunino, struck out Johnson and had Maddox fly out in foul territory to close the stanza.

Whitson set down Parks on a fly ball to the warning track in left field to open the Bulldogs’ sixth and was replaced by sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.). Over 5.1 innings, Whitson yielded five hits and a run, with three K and a pair of walks. Rodriguez had Collins ground out and caught pinch hitter Vickerson looking on strikes.

Florida used a two-out, two-run single by Tucker to seize a 3-1 advantage in the seventh. Pollorena (3-1) recorded the first two outs before Powers collected his second hit of the afternoon through the right side of the infield. Powers went to second on a wild pitch and Fontana drew a walk before Adams hit an apparent inning-ending grounder. Instead, shortstop Ogden committed his second error of the game to fill the bags full of Gators. Tucker cashed in by stroking a 0-1 pitch up the middle to drive Powers and Fontana for a two-run margin. Junior Caleb Reed came in for Pollorena (1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER) and struck out Zunino.

After Rodriguez (2-1) retired all five MSU batters he faced over 1.2 innings, with three strikeouts, junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) took the bump in the eighth. The right-hander notched the first two outs before walking Freeman and permitting a single to Park for runners on the corners. Junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) was summoned from the bullpen and caught freshman pinch hitter Taylor Stark looking on strikes to preserve the 3-1 lead.

Powers walked to open the ninth and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Fontana. Reed (2.0 IP, 1 H) had Adams fly out to left field and was replaced on the mound by Bradford, who had Tucker ground out to set the stage for a dramatic bottom of the ninth.

The Gators will complete their four-game regular-season series against No. 7 Florida State (23-9/9-6 ACC) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have taken two of three meetings this year: 5-3 FSU win in Tampa on March 1; 5-4 UF win in 10 innings in Gainesville on March 15; 5-2 FSU win in Jacksonville on March 29.

Game Notes

· Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan improved to 5-1 against the Bulldogs.

· The Gators claimed a series at Mississippi State for the first time since a 2-1 result over the weekend of April 16-18, 2004 (2-11, 16-6, 8-3). UF had dropped two out of three in its most recent visit to Starkville during the 2006 season.

· Florida has now captured its last six SEC road series dating back to last March: Tennessee (2-1), Kentucky (2-1), Alabama (2-1), South Carolina (2-1), LSU (3-0) and Mississippi State (2-1).

· UF held a 9-8 advantage in hits and each club stranded nine runners.