ATHENS, Ga. — Florida sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) struck out junior Levi Hyams with the tying run aboard to end the game as the No. 4 Gators (27-8/10-3 SEC) defeated Georgia (18-17/8-5 SEC), 5-4, in the opener of the weekend series on Friday night at Foley Field. The victory was the 150th of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s career and increased UF’s winning streak over the Bulldogs to nine games dating back to the 2008 season.
The hosts had pulled within a run in their final at bat on a two-out RBI single by junior Peter Verdin before Rodriguez was called upon in relief of sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R). The southpaw’s punch-out resulted in his second save and preserved the win for sophomore Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (6-1). The Gators banged out 13 hits and were led offensively by Maddox (3-for-4, two RBI), sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-5) and juniors Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4) and Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-3).
Tucker had opened the scoring in the first inning with an RBI single into center field off sophomore Alex Wood (4-4). Fontana had started the game with a double into right field and advanced to third on a passed ball by freshman catcher Brandon Stephens. Tucker drove in Fontana with a one-out base-hit into center for his 26th RBI of the season.
Georgia answered with the tying run in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly by junior Zach Cone. Hyams (2-for-5) had led off with a single up the middle but was erased on a fielder’s choice by freshman Conor Welton. The Bulldogs executed a hit-and-run on a single into left by sophomore Kyle Farmer (2-for-4) that pushed Welton to third and Cone lofted his first sacrifice fly of the year into left field to score Welton.
In the third, Hyams collected his second hit of the night with a one-out single into right field and moved into scoring position with his fourth stolen base. A fielder’s choice by Welton erased Hyams at third on a bang-bang play from Fontana to junior Jeff Moyer (Winter Springs, Fla.) for the second out and Randall had a grounder by Farmer force Welton at second base to end the inning.
Florida seized a 3-1 lead in the fifth on an RBI single by Pigott and a fielder’s choice by Moyer. Sophomores Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) and Maddox opened the inning with back-to-back singles and were sacrificed over on a bunt by junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.). Pigott stroked a single into center field to score Johnson and leave runners on the corners with one down. Although Moyer’s grounder forced Pigott at second base, he narrowly avoided the double play as Maddox came across the plate with UF’s third run.
Maddox delivered a two-out, two-run single with the bases full in the sixth to expand the Gators’ lead to 5-1. With one down, the trio of senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tucker and sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) each singled to load the bases. Wood caught Johnson looking on strikes for the second out and Maddox came through with a clutch base-knock into center to score Adams and Zunino.
The Bulldogs pulled within 5-3 on two hits and an error in the seventh. Sophomore Brett DeLoach had a leadoff single into left field and junior Jonathan Hester followed with a walk, ending a stretch of 36-straight innings in which Randall had not issued a free pass. Sophomore Curt Powell moved his teammates over with a sacrifice bunt and Stephens roped an RBI single into right field to score DeLoach. Pigott dropped a fly ball from Verdin in left field, enabling Hester to come in with the second run and prompt a pitching change. Junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) replaced Randall (6.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER) and had Hyams fly out to right field, where Tucker made a shoe-string catch for the second out to keep the runners on first and second base. Maronde caught redshirt sophomore pinch hitter Kevin Ruiz looking on strikes to end the inning.
Wood allowed 12 hits and five runs and had five strikeouts over seven full innings before relieved by redshirt sophomore Earl Daniels prior to the start of the eighth. Zunino drew a one-out walk and Daniels induced an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play on a ball hit by Johnson.
Maddox moved from first base to the mound for the eighth and retired UGA in order, with two fly-outs and a strikeout of DeLoach. Maddox began the ninth with his third hit of the contest and went to second on a wild pitch by Daniels before being sacrificed to third by Thompson. Sophomore Patrick Boling was summoned from the bullpen for Daniels (1.1 IP, 1 H) and had sophomore pinch hitter Kamm Washington (Boynton Beach, Fla.) ground out before walking sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.). Boling had Fontana ground out to strand the pair of runners.
With the Bulldogs down to their final three outs, Maddox registered the first out before surrendering a double into left field by Powell. After Maddox whiffed pinch hitter freshman Austin Wheeler, Verdin punched an RBI single into left field that brought across Powell and narrowed the gap to 5-4. Rodriguez was called upon and struck out Hyams swinging on a 1-2 pitch to close the ballgame.
The Gators and Bulldogs will resume this series tomorrow at 5 p.m. on ESPNU, as sophomore lefty Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (5-1, 2.54) will oppose junior RHP Michael Palazzone (5-1, 2.28)
· Florida improved to 6-2 in one-run games this season.
· Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is now 150-71 in his fourth season at the helm of the Gators.
· Hudson Randall has worked at least 6.1 innings in four of his five SEC starts.
· Brian Johnson extended his hitting streak to a season-high eight games while Preston Tucker has a hit in seven-straight outings.
· Austin Maddox had his fourth three-hit game and now has 13 multiple-hit efforts this season.
· UF is now 7-2 on an opponent’s home field this year.
· Tyler Thompson had a couple of sacrifices for the Orange and Blue.