Gators beat ‘Pack 7-1 in opener

Hudson Randall combined with three relievers on a nine-hit, one-run performance and the Florida Gators opened the 2012 Gainesville Super Regional with a 7-1 win against North Carolina State in a Saturday game that featured multiple rain delays.

The victory puts Florida one win away from advancing to its fourth consecutive College World Series, which begins June 15 in Omaha, Neb. Game 2 between Florida and N.C. State is at 1 p.m. on Sunday in McKethan Stadium.

Early on, Randall and N.C. State’s Ethan Ogburn engaged in a pitchers’ duel in front of 5,117 fans with neither allowing much in the first couple of innings.

However, it was Ogburn who blinked first. Randall never blinked.

“Hudson was outstanding on the mound again,” said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “It seems like every time he goes to the mound he gives us a quality start.”

The Gators took control of the game with a four-run third inning. After consecutive one-out singles by Josh Tobias and Nolan Fontana, Preston Tucker roped a liner to center to plate Tobias and give Florida a 1-0 lead.

Following a passed ball that put runners on second and third, Mike Zunino hit what should have been a routine grounder to N.C. State shortstop Chris Diaz. However, Diaz short-hopped his throw to first baseman Andrew Ciencin scoring Tucker and Fontana and advancing Zunino to second.

Danel Pigott capped the four-run inning with a two-out single, scoring Zunino.

“Errors are part of the game,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “Sure, it’s frustrating, but it’s just a part of the game.”

After being handed extra outs in the third, Florida looked to take control on its own in the fifth.

Tucker and Zunino opened the frame with consecutive hits. A walk to Brian Johnson loaded the bases with no outs.

Despite the jam, Ogburn was able to limit the damage. After a sacrifice fly from Pigott, he induced an inning-ending double play ball off the bat of Casey Turgeon.

Still, the four runs were more than enough for Randall. After having to battle his way through 5.2 innings against Georgia Tech last Saturday, Randall cruised through seven innings.

In his seven scoreless innings, Randall gave up just six hits and struck out four. The only thing capable of stopping him on this day was inclement weather.

As Florida batted in the bottom of the seventh, that is what happened. With Mike Zunino batting, Mother Nature struck — with force.

The weather delay lasted two hours and three minutes.

Once play resumed, it was Zunino who showed his force.

On the second pitch after the rain delay, he launched a home run into the sparsely populated left-field stands. The home run was his third in as many games and 19th on the year, which tied a Florida record for catchers.

“I knew with a 3-2 count that they didn’t want to walk me,” Zunino said. “I knew that there was going to be something around the zone. I got a fastball; the one that I fouled off was a little bit up. I was able to get one I could handle on the second pitch.”

The towering shot put the Gators up 7-0 with two innings to play.

After another rain delay, this one 48 minutes, a combination of Greg Larson, Bobby Poyner and Keenan Kish finished off the Wolfpack.

Kish ran into trouble in the ninth, giving up back-to-back, two-out hits that plated N.C. State’s only run. He was able to end the game by getting Trea Turner to ground out to Nolan Fontana.

In all, the game lasted five hours and 50 minutes with two hours and 51 minutes in weather delays.

During the two delays, Tucker said the team watched other games to “see what possibly the future competition will be.”

With the win, Florida now has a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Still, O’Sullivan said the Gators certainly are aware this series is not over.

“N.C. State’s got the ability to come back and win this series,” O’Sullivan said, adding that his player “will realize that.”

Looking to punch its ticket to Omaha on Sunday, Florida will start Jonathon Crawford. It will be Crawford’s first start since his no-hitter in the Gainesville Regional last Friday.

Opposing Crawford will be N.C. State ace Carlos Rodon. On the year, the freshman left-hander is a perfect 9-0 with a 1.61 ERA.

Like Zunino, Rodon is one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award.

“I know he’s a great pitcher,” Zunino said. “We’ve just got to come out ready to go.”