Clutch hits and scoring runs has been an issue all season for the Florida Gators but perhaps Tuesday night’s 12-2 win over the Jacksonville University Dolphins is indicative of things to come. Ten of Florida’s 12 runs were driven home with two outs as the Gators put on a real offensive show at McKethan Stadium.
“That was huge,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “That’s been our motto. Last year, we did that a lot, but we haven’t as much this year. We’ve been leaving a lot of guys stranded, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”
The scoring onslaught started in the second inning when Jonathan Pigott lined a two-out, two-run triple down the right field line that drove home Josh Adams and Brian Johnson. After Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch, Pigott came home on an error by Dolphins second baseman Chuck Opachich that moved Zunino to third. Fontana got picked off first base, but stayed in the rundown long enough to allow Zunino to score, giving Florida a 4-0 lead.
Prior to that four-run second inning, the Gators had hung zeroes for 12 straight innings going back to Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt. One big inning doesn’t mean a slump is broken, but it’s a place to begin.
“You’ve got to start somewhere, and hopefully tonight is that start,” O’Sullivan said.
The Dolphins rallied for two in the third, but the Gators countered in the fifth with a single run when Zunino singled, stole second, moved to third on a ground out and scored on a ground out by Matt den Dekker. In the sixth, the Gators struck for five more runs with two out to put JU away.
Tyler Thompson’s two-out single up the middle got things started. After Pigott walked, Zunino blooped a single into center field to score Thompson and move Pigott to third. Fontana followed with a triple into the right center field gap to drive home Pigott and Zunino. After Matt den Dekker walked, Preston Tucker singled to left field to score Fontana, pushing Florida’s lead to 10-2.
The RBI single for Zunino came on a two-strike pitch that had him off balance, but he still managed to drop it in front of Dolphins center fielder Dan Gulbransen.
“They say sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good,” Zunino said with a smile. “My swing has gone through a lot of changes, but as long as I can get lucky on a few and some fall in, my confidence goes up.”
Sophomore Greg Larson got the start on the mound for the Gators. It was the second start of his career and his first appearance since March 24 against Florida Gulf Coast, Larson has been battling tendonitis in his left elbow since then. On a pitch count of 40, Larson lasted three innings, giving up three hits and two unearned runs.
“It was good to get back out there,” Larson said. “I feel really good. He had me on a predetermined pitch count, and I felt great.”
O’Sullivan said the pitch count was to keep Larson available for this weekend’s series at Tennessee.
Justin Poovey went two scoreless innings of relief, allowing one hit and striking out four batters. The biggest news wasn’t his performance, but rather a change in his arm slot that creates more movement. His arm now follows a path slightly below three-quarters, creating more sink on the fastball and more tilt on his slider.
Poovey entered Tuesday night having thrown 11 innings on the season where he allowed 20 hits. His pitches were becoming flat, and that is what led to the change.
It was something that O’Sullivan and Poovey toyed around with during a voluntary workout Monday, and the Florida coach wanted to have him try it during a midweek game.
“We just said drop it,” O’Sullivan quipped about what he said to Poovey during the trial period with his arm slot. “And when you’re comfortable, drop it a little more. He’s got a really good arm, and you don’t see many guys from that (arm) slot throw 88-92 (mph). I was glad he had the results he did. Anytime you ask somebody to change something like that, you hope they have positive results so they believe in what you’re telling them.”
Freshman right-hander Ben Brown made his Gator debut with a scoreless eighth inning.
Brian Johnson hit his first career home run with a solo shot to left field in the seventh inning. He added an RBI single one inning later. He is now hitting .438 (7-16) on the season and may have a strong hold on the designated hitter spot against right-handed pitchers.
The Gators now embark on an eight-game road trip before their next home game on April 23. This weekend Florida travels to take on Tennessee in a three-game series, starting Friday night at 7 p.m.