Reigning NCAA champion Louisiana State started fast Saturday in its baseball doubleheader at Florida. But in the end, the Gators won the marathon.
Trailing 7-0 in a suspended game that would be completed after the nationally televised first game, LSU got a first-pitch home run from Mike Mahtook, who tried to get his struggling teammates a boost by pumping his fist rounding the bases.
But Florida freshman right-hander Hudson Randall settled down and gave the Gators eight strong innings, enough time for his teammates to get their bats rolling on the way to a 7-3 victory, and then bullpen ace Kevin Chapman clamped down on the rallying Tigers in the suspended game as Florida won, 8-5, to clinch the weekend series at McKethan Stadium.
The Gators (30-11 overall, 14-6 SEC East) will seek the sweep Sunday at 1 p.m., sending freshman left-hander Brian Johnson (3-2, 2.91 ERA) against a pitcher to be determined by coach Paul Mainieri of LSU, which has now lost six straight games for the first time since the 1982 season. The Tigers fell to 11-9 in the SEC West, 32-12 overall. The series finale will be telecast by ESPN.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan saw his team’s 8-0 lead after five innings cut in half by the Tigers in the sixth inning against relievers Greg Larson and Nick Maronde. With one out in the seventh, he turned the ball over to Chapman.
“We wanted to make sure we got him in the game,” O’Sullivan said, “and if anything funny did happen, we were going to use him regardless of the inning.”
It was Chapman’s longest relief stint of the season – he threw 33 pitches, 23 for strikes – but he did not allow a run, hit or walk while striking out two.
Larson started the suspended game after O’Sullivan elected not to return with sophomore left-handed starter Alex Panteliodis, who pitched five innings and allowed four hits and no runs before the rain and lightning ended things Friday night.
Larson did not record an out but gave up five hits and four runs before turning the ball over to Maronde, whose control wasn’t sharp. He lasted 1.1 innings, giving up a hit and an unearned run. Then O’Sullivan turned to Chapman, who assured Panteliodis that he would earn the victory. Panteliodis (7-2) did and Chapman earned his eighth save.
“When that happens, you’ve got to come in, step up and shut it down,” Chapman said. “I want to do the best I can and help AP get his ‘W.’”
Prior to the suspension, Florida took a 1-0 lead when freshman Austin Maddox singled in Bryce Smith in the first inning. In the second inning, Mike Zunino doubled and Tyler Thompson singled off the shin of LSU pitcher Anthony Ranaudo (2-2). Josh Adams then hit his seventh home run of the season, a three-run shot that gave Florida a 4-0 lead.
Ranaudo was replaced by Joey Bourgeois in the top of the third and the Gators added three more runs. Zunino singled home freshman Austin Maddox and then Thompson tripled home two more runs for a 7-0 lead. When the game was resumed, Thompson hit a sacrifice fly to score Brian Johnson for an 8-0 lead.
Zunino, Thompson and Adams – the bottom third of Florida’s lineup – combined to go 6-of-9. Thompson was 3-for-3 with 3 RBI and Zunino had two hits in addition to Adams’ 3-run homer. Florida outhit LSU 12-10 in the game, with Maddox also claiming a pair of hits.
The middle of the Florida order hasn’t been as hot as it has been the past few weeks, but now there appears to be no part of the lineup that is struggling.
“If you asked six weeks ago, people probably said it’s the worst lineup,” O’Sullivan said with a smirk. “Baseball is a funny game.”
O’Sullivan said that because Panteliodis’ pitch count was low Friday night – he threw just 52 pitches before the suspension – he might be used, if necessary, for an inning or two Sunday. He and Randall, though, were brilliant in the two games, going a combined 13 innings and allowing just one earned run while striking out nine and walking just one.
Of the 111 pitches Randall (5-3) threw Saturday, 71 were strikes as he went a career-high eight innings, allowing seven hits and the one run while recording a career-high seven strikeouts. He retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced after Florida staked him to a 7-1 lead. Reliever Jeff Barfield threw the final inning for Florida, surrendering a two-run home run to Leon Landry.
Randall’s fastball has a natural sink to it, but 11 of the 24 outs he recorded came on fly balls because hitters were often in front of his off-speed pitches. The curve ball served as his strikeout pitch. LSU hitters swung over it throughout the start, even during his final innings on the mound after they had already seen the pitch.
Additionally, two double plays turned by the Florida infield killed LSU rallies in the third and fourth innings, taking the air out of the Tigers’ offense and allowing the Florida offense to get to work against LSU starter Chris Matulis.
The Florida offense tied the game in the second inning on a sacrifice fly from Jonathan Pigott that scored his brother Daniel, who had singled to start the inning. A groundout and single by Mike Zunino moved Daniel to third.
Florida took the lead for good in the bottom of the third inning after two were out. Daniel Pigott doubled and den Dekker followed with a single for a 2-1 lead.
The Gators loaded the bases in the fourth inning on a walk and singles by Josh Adams and Nolan Fontana. Bryson Smith walked to score the first run. After Preston Tucker grounded out to the pitcher and LSU got the out at home, Austin Maddox reached on a fielder’s choice to third that scored one run, giving Florida a 4-1 lead after four innings.
Florida pulled away in the fifth inning. Back-to-back singles by den Dekker and Mike Zunino started the inning, and a double by Jonathan Pigott scored den Dekker. Adams and Fontana followed with back-to-back sacrifice flies to push the Florida lead to 7-1.
The Gators outhit the Tigers 11-9 and had four batters with two hits each – Fontana, den Dekker, Zunino and Daniel Pigott, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Eastern Division Conference Overall
(Rank) Team W-L Pct. GB W-L Pct.
(8) South Carolina 15-5 .750 — 33-9 .786
(10) Florida 14-6 .700 1 30-11 .732
(21) Vanderbilt 10-9 .526 4.5 33-12 .733
Kentucky 7-13 .350 8 24-19 .558
Tennessee 7-13 .350 8 23-21 .523
Georgia 3-16 .158 11.5 13-30 .302
Western Division Conference Overall
(Rank) Team W-L Pct. GB W-L Pct.
(7) Arkansas 14-6 .700 — 35-9 .795
(16) Mississippi 13-7 .650 1 32-13 .711
(13) Louisiana State 11-9 .550 3 32-12 .727
Auburn 11-9 .550 3 29-15 .659
Alabama 9-11 .450 5 29-16 .644
Mississippi State 5-15 .250 9 20-22 .476
(Rank) Ranking in the GatorCountry.com Top 30
SATURDAY / May 1
Florida 7, Louisiana State 3 (1st)
Florida 8, Louisiana State 5 (2nd, resumption of Friday’s game)
Alabama 6, South Carolina 4
Auburn 8, Arkansas 7
Tennessee 8, Kentucky 6
Mississippi 12, Mississippi State 10
Georgia at Vanderbilt, suspended by inclement weather (Georgia led 4-2 in the top of the fourth; game will resume Sunday)
FRIDAY / April 30
Florida 7, Louisiana State 0 (game suspended by inclement weather in the bottom of the fifth)
South Carolina 9, Alabama 7 (11)
Arkansas 9, Auburn 4
Vanderbilt 17, Georgia 5
Kentucky 12, Tennessee 8
Mississippi 4, Mississippi State 2
SUNDAY / May 2
Louisiana State (TBA) at Florida (Fr. LHP Brian Johnson 3-2, 2.91 ERA), 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Alabama (TBA) at South Carolina (Sr. RHP Jay Brown 2-0, 4.22 ERA), 1:30 p.m.
Georgia (TBA) at Vanderbilt (So. RHP Jack Armstrong 5-1, 3.83 ERA) (2), 2 p.m. (first game will be resumption of suspended game from Saturday that Georgia led 4-2 in the top of the fourth)
Auburn (Jr. LHP Grant Dayton 4-2, 5.14 ERA) at Arkansas (Jr. RHP Brett Eibner 3-3, 4.04 ERA), 2:05 p.m.
Mississippi (TBA) at Mississippi State (Fr, LHP Luke Bole 2-1, 6.89 ERA), 2:30 p.m. (CSS)
Kentucky (TBA) at Tennessee (TBA), 3 p.m.
HOW THE GATORCOUNTRY.COM TOP 30 COLLEGE BASEBALL TEAMS FARED SATURDAY
The GatorCountry.com Top 30 is determined by combining four polls of USA Today / ESPN Coaches, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
1. Texas (36-7) vs. Baylor, late.
2. Arizona State (37-5) beat No. 6 UCLA, 6-1.
3. Virginia (37-9) beat Duke, 11-1.
4. Georgia Tech (35-8) lost to North Carolina State, 4-2.
5. Coastal Carolina (37-6) beat UNC Asheville, 6-4.
6. UCLA (30-9) lost to No. 2 Arizona State, 6-1.
7. Arkansas (35-9) lost to Auburn, 8-7.
8. South Carolina (33-9) lost to Alabama, 6-4.
9. Florida State (32-12) lost to LeMoyne, 3-1 (1st, resumption of suspended game) and beat LeMoyne, 8-5 (2nd).
10. Florida (30-11) beat No. 13 Louisiana State, 7-3 (1st) and 8-5 (2nd, resumption of suspended game).
11. Texas Christian (33-9) beat Utah, 11-4.
12. Louisville (36-7) beat Rutgers, 24-6.
13. Louisiana State (32-12) lost to No. 10 Florida, 7-3 (1st) and 8-5 (2nd, resumption of suspended game).
14. Miami, Fla. (33-11) beat Maryland, 6-4.
15. Cal State Fullerton (27-13) beat Pacific, 11-7.
16. Mississippi (32-13) beat Mississippi State, 12-10.
17. Oklahoma (31-12) lost to No. 24 Kansas State, 14-9.
18. Connecticut (35-9) beat No. 29 Pittsburgh, 11-7, and lost to No. 29 Pittsburgh, 13-4.
19. Arizona (28-13) lost to Southern California, 7-5.
20. Stanford (21-16) lost to Washington, 8-1.
21. Vanderbilt (33-12) vs. Georgia, game suspended by weather (Georgia leading 4-2 in T4).
22. Oregon (29-14) beat Washington State, 6-0.
23. Virginia Tech (31-14) beat Boston College, 3-1.
24. Kansas State (30-11) beat No. 17 Oklahoma, 14-9.
25. California (25-15) beat Oregon State, 14-4.
26. Clemson (25-17) lost to Florida Gulf Coast University, 4-2.
27. Rice (26-16) did not play.
28. San Diego (25-16) beat San Francisco, 10-4.
29. Pittsburgh (31-11) lost to No. 18 Connecticut, 11-7, and beat No. 18 Connecticut, 13-4.
30. North Carolina (27-17) did not play.