By Josh Benton
In his NCAA debut, Florida freshman Karsten Whitson struck out nine University of South Florida Bulls, walked one batter and allowed just one hit in five innings. Whitson combined with three Gator relievers to shut out USF 5-0 and earn a season-opening series sweep over the Bulls.
“I felt good,” Whitson said. “I was really excited to just get out there and throw strikes.”
After allowing a first inning single to USF shortstop Sam Mende, Whitson settled down and retired the next 11 batters he faced.
“It was a good piece of hitting by (Mende),” Whitson said. “I threw a fastball inside and he got his hands through. It was a good pitch but a better job of hitting. I just kept making good pitches after that and tried to hit my spots. I just tried to keep the ball low in the zone, throw strikes and let my team behind me make plays. I was getting pretty good movement (on my fastball). I was definitely trying to throw my two-seam inside to get them to hit into ground balls, which they did, and my slider was working pretty good too so I was happy.”
Whitson (1-0) was taken ninth overall by the San Diego Padres in last year’s Major League Baseball Entry Draft, but elected to give up a potentially large sum of money to take a scholarship with the Gators.
“(Sunday) has got to be up there, probably top one or two (in career milestones),” Whitson said. “This was the reason right here I came to school, just to throw on this Gator uniform and come out here and pitch. It was definitely a lot of fun.”
USF (0-3) pitchers did not have nearly as much fun. Starting pitcher Nick Gonzalez (0-1) was pulled after the third inning. He gave up two hits, allowed one run, struck out one batter and walked four others. Relievers Kyle Eastham and Matt Reed each gave up four hits and two runs. Both hit UF shortstop Nolan Fontana with a pitch, and neither recorded a strikeout. Fontana got two hits, a double off Gonzalez and a single off Eastham, scoring a run each time. It was his third consecutive multi-hit game.
“I’m just seeing the ball well,” Fontana said. “I was fortunate. I had a good weekend and I’ll see if I can keep it going. Saying that it looked like a beach ball would be an understatement.”
Florida catcher Mike Zunino got his first two hits of the season, one of which was a solo home run over the left field bleachers.
“I missed the first two pitches trying to drag bunt and get something going,” Zunino said of the homer. “He hung a curveball with two strikes and I just put a good swing on it.”
While the Gators’ pitching and hitting were excellent, there were base running errors. Josh Adams was picked off on the way to second base in the second inning, and Daniel Pigott was picked off at first in the sixth inning.
“We’ve got some stuff we’ve got to work on,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I wasn’t real pleased with our base running today. We got picked at first on a three-two count, which can’t happen. We got picked when there was nothing on. Overall we had a great weekend offensively, but you have get three weeks to work on your first series so this’ll be a work in progress. I think it is for everybody, to be honest with you, across the nation.”
3,852 fans came to Sunday’s matinée at McKethan Stadium. In total, 14,003 fans attended the series, a McKethan Stadium record for a season-opening series, and second all-time for a three-game series (14,619 attended a series against Georgia last season).
The Gators (3-0) will travel to Jupiter on Tuesday for their first road game of the season against Florida Atlantic University.