Another shutout for Florida Gators

With pitching depth comparable to any team in the country, the one knock on the Florida baseball pitching staff might have been its lack of a true ace. On Friday night against Charleston Southern, they may have found one.

After a sparkling performance last weekend at Miami during which he allowed one run in 5.2 innings, Alex Panteliodis went a career-high seven innings Friday night, helping the Gators cruise to a 6-0 victory over Charleston Southern at McKethan Stadium. The sophomore left-hander struck out five batters and allowed only five hits. He walked only one batter, despite struggling with his control.

“He battled tonight,” Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. “He didn’t have the stuff he had at Miami, but today was a day where he showed what he had. He battled through it and gave us seven strong innings. The off-speed, he struggled to get it over for strikes, but he made an adjustment that really helped.”

Panteliodis (4-0, 1.10 ERA) struggled with his off-speed pitches throughout the night and leaned on his fastball to get the outs. Charleston Southern hitters obliged by putting the first pitch in play on four of the final seven at-bats against Panteliodis. Though his control wasn’t great, he was about to bear down and throw pitches low in the zone, causing the Buccaneer hitters to pound pitches into the ground more often than not. Of the 21 outs recorded by Panteliodis, only six came on fly balls.

“I was mainly throwing fastballs today, (some) off-speed stuff, but it just wasn’t going for strikes,” Panteliodis said. “I just used the fastball mainly tonight.”

The main scoring threat for Charleston Southern came after back-to-back singles by Nick Chinners and Tyler Thornburg to lead off the fourth inning. Matt Still then grounded into a double play. After a walk to Derek Smith, Walt Quattlebaum flew out to right field and ended the threat.

Besides that fourth inning, the Buccaneers had only three base runners all night.

“We got another good start by AP,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I didn’t think he was particularly sharp. His last two innings were a lot sharper, and he was throwing his secondary stuff for strikes.”

Jeff Barfield and Kevin Chapman combined to throw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and didn’t allow any batters to reach base. Chapman touched 94 miles per hour on the radar gun.

After an 8-0 victory over Illinois State on Wednesday night, Friday’s shutout was the first time Florida has recorded back-to-back shutouts since May 5 and 7 of 1995.

“It’s another shutout,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s not easy to do when you throw multiple pitchers, I don’t care who you play, especially with aluminum bats. We’re playing outstanding defense and we’re not walking people.”

Five of the six runs came during a second-inning onslaught. Austin Maddox started it with a single up the middle. Josh Adams followed with a single to center field, moving Maddox to second. Tyler Thompson flew out to deep right field, moving Maddox to third. Bryson Smith followed with ground ball to shortstop that went off his glove and into center field, scoring Maddox and moving Adams to third. Kamm Washington grounded out to second base, scoring Adams.

Zunino then golfed a 1-2 breaking ball into the left-field bleachers, scoring Smith. He intentionally shortened his swing, a two-strike approach that the Florida coaches teach. It helps cut down on strikeouts and increases hard, line-drive contact. For Zunino, the line drive just happened to land in the stands.

“With two strikes, I try not to let the fastball beat me,” Zunino said. “I adjust to the curve ball. The first pitch, I was looking curve ball and I just missed that one. When I saw the second one, I had a good swing on it.”

Matt den Dekker then lined a fastball off the right field scoreboard for his first home run of the year, giving the Gators their second back-to-back home runs this season, pushing the Florida lead to 5-0.

“I was out in front a little bit, but I still got it on the barrel (of the bat),” den Dekker said. “I kept my hands back, so I got enough of it to get out of here. It was nice to get my first home run. I was just hitting singles and doubles before. I’ve been focused on hitting line drives. I haven’t been trying to lift balls.”

Maddox scored again in the sixth inning after lining a leadoff double off the right-field wall. He was moved to third base on a bunt by Adams and scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Thompson.

Zunino knew he got greedy in the seventh inning. He hit a line drive in front of a diving Tom Burkett in center field, and the ball skipped past him to the center field wall. Zunino tried to turn on the afterburners, but there’s only so much a catcher can do. He was gassed from catching eight innings and was thrown out at home plate by five feet.

“I wanted it,” Zunino said with a smile. “The body was saying no. I made a bad turn around third and my cleat got stuck at home. It would’ve been nice, but legs were definitely feeling it because it was the eighth inning.”

The lead allowed Panteliodis to cruise. A five-run lead meant Charleston Southern couldn’t tie the game with one swing, so the left-hander simply forced them to make contact. An errorless performance from the Florida defense helped him, including a sparkling play on a ball off third baseman Bryson Smith’s glove that deflected to shortstop Nolan Fontana who threw strong across the diamond for the out.

The Gators continue the series on Saturday at 4 p.m. Freshman left-hander Brian Johnson (1-1, 3.27 ERA) will start for the Gators, opposed by Charleston Southern sophomore left-hander Charlie McCready (0-2, 3.60 ERA).