TAMPA — Before the fifth-ranked Florida Gators could blink Tuesday night, they were in a big hole. A George M. Steinbrenner Field crowd of 8,438 had barely settled in their seats when second-ranked Florida State unleashed a seven-run first inning that allowed the Seminoles to cruise to a 10-5 victory.
Florida starter Anthony DeSclafani gave up three singles as the first five batters reached base. He only threw 18 pitches but he had poor control, hitting back-to-back hitters with a pitch in a two-strike count.
DeSclafani only faced those five hitters before he was yanked, bringing on reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Hudson Randall with two men on and the Gators already trailing 3-0. Sherman Johnson greeted Randall with a single to center that loaded the bases but Justin Gonzalez checked his swing and hit a weak ground ball to first base that was turned into a double play. Still, a run scored to give the Seminoles a 4-0 advantage.
The Gators couldn’t get out of the inning, however, before Rafael Lopez doubled off the right field wall to bring home one run and Jayce Boyd homered to left to stake the Seminoles to a 7-0 lead.
“We just didn’t get a good start from Anthony,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We didn’t get off on the right foot, and then it snowballed. When you fall behind a good club 7-0, it’s hard.”
Mike Zunino got Florida on the board in the third inning with a wind-aided solo home run over 408-foot sign in center field. It was Zunino’s first home run as a Gator.
“It would’ve been a lot nicer to beat FSU for the first time, but I’m happy it’s [first home run] out of the way,” Zunino said. “I thought I hit it alright. I just got a hanging curve ball and put a good swing on it.”
Florida State answered Zunino’s blast with a triple by Gonzalez and a safety squeeze bunt by Lopez to kill any momentum the Gators might have gathered. Down 8-1,
Momentum was hard to come by for the Gators because they couldn’t get the runners in even though their leadoff hitters reached base in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Florida got runners on base just that they spent the night looking for a big swing that never came.
The Gators had serious threats in the fifth and sixth innings when they put runners on second and third with one out but in both those situations, nobody could deliver the big hit. Florida State’s Brian Busch got out of the sixth with two straight strikeouts.
“One of the main things we’ve prided ourselves on the first couple of years is situational hitting,” O’Sullivan said. “We just have not hit our stride yet that way. We’ve got to put the ball in play with a runner on third and less than two outs, and we just haven’t done that quite yet.”
The Gators tried to mount a comeback off Florida State closer Andrew Durden in the ninth inning, but it was too late. Daniel Pigott and Jerico Weitzel started the inning with back-to-back singles and after Cody Dent and Hampton Tignor struck out, Ben McMahan reached on an infield single that scored Pigott. Matt den Dekker singled to right field to drive home Weitzel and Josh Adams singled to left-center field, scoring a run and moving den Dekker to third. Preston Tucker followed with a single to right field, scoring den Dekker. Austin Maddox was hit by a pitch to load the bases but on Pigott’s second at-bat of the inning, he fouled out to first base.
“The positive is that we battled,” O’Sullivan said. “We put ourselves in a position to get one more batter to the plate and we’ve got the tying run at the plate.
Because DeSclafani was unable to record an out in the 18 pitches he threw, the Florida bullpen actually threw nine innings. However, they were done sparingly enough to make sure all of the pitchers will be able to throw this weekend when the Gators head south to Coral Gables to face Miami.
Randall had the longest outing out of the bullpen, going three innings and allowing three runs. Greg Larson threw two innings of relief and did not allow a single base runner while recording two strikeouts. Coming into the game, Larson had an ERA of 16.88 after struggling in his last two appearances against USF and UCF. He was able to settle into a groove and have his most impressive outing of the year.
Nick Maronde came into the game with a 23.14 ERA after allowing six runs in 2-1/3 innings of work on the season. The sophomore left-hander dealt a scoreless inning, including strikeouts of Tyler Holt and James Ramsey, to regain his confidence in a game that was already out of reach. The two strikeouts were big for Maronde, as his recent struggles came in putting hitters away. In his previous two outings, he could get to two strikes with no issues and be unable to make the strikeout pitch. He made them Tuesday night.
“I’ve said all along that they were fine,” O’Sullivan said. “I believe in them and they’re going to be good. They scuffled early, but for us to get to where we want to, those guys have to be a huge part of it. They were going to figure it out, it was just a matter of when.”
Tommy Toledo got 1/3 of an inning of work, allowing a hit and a walk, while also striking out Tapley. Steven Rodriguez came in to finish the inning, recording a strikeout of Johnson and getting a ground out from Gonzalez.
The Seminoles tacked on two runs in the eighth inning of Brian Johnson. He allowed a leadoff walk, followed by a weakly hit infield single before striking out Holt. A ground ball to second by Ramsey yielded an out. Stephen Cardullo reached on an infield single that scored a run, and after Kevin Chapman relieved Johnson, Mike McGee grounded a single in to right, extending the Florida State lead to 10-1 after eight innings.
With Toledo getting some work in, the starting rotation will see some changes this weekend. Alex Panteliodis will pitch on Friday night, Brian Johnson will pitch on Saturday night and Toledo will close the series by pitching on Sunday.
With his ninth-inning single, Matt den Dekker extended his career-best hitting streak to 15 games. He went 1-5 with one RBI.
Friday night’s game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Alex Panteliodis (2-0, 2.45) will pitch against Miami junior left-hander Eric Erickson (1-0, 2.31).