This is beginning to sound like a broken record because the same thing keeps happening every game for Florida’s #1-ranked baseball team. The Gators have made this habit of falling behind, hitting home runs to re-take the lead and then turning the game over to the bullpen to slam the door shut.
Nolan Fontana drilled this pitch from Luke Weaver into center field for a first inning hit in Florida's 9-2 win over Florida State Tuesday night. (Gator Bait photo by Steve Johnson)
That was the formula that worked once again Tuesday night before a record crowd of 6,005 at McKethan Stadium as the Gators roared back from a 2-0 deficit behind a 3-run homer by Preston Tucker and 6-1/3 innings of shutout relief from the bullpen to take a 9-2 win over 6th-ranked Florida State. It was the 14th straight win for the Gators (16-1), tying the school record set in 2001 and equaled in 2004, and it was the 10th come-from-behind win in 2012.
Tucker hit his home run in the bottom of the third and from there the bullpen took care of business, giving up only two hits the rest of the way while extending their scoreless streak to 28 consecutive innings. The last time the Florida bullpen was scored on was the third game of the Miami series back on March 4.
“We did a great job today,” said lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez, who set down all nine batters he faced in a 3-inning stint from the fifth through seventh. “The bullpen did great. Everybody came out and threw strikes, we pounded the ball into the [strike] zone and we got outs. That’s all that matters.”
Greg Larson needed 15 pitches to go 1-1/3 innings in relief of starter Bobby Poyner, got his third win of the season before giving way to Rodriguez. Daniel Gibson came on for Rodriguez in the eighth but he also gave up two hits before Austin Maddox came on to get the final out in the eighth and set the Seminoles down 1-2-3 in the ninth for his sixth save of the season. Maddox has gone 15-2/3 innings this season without allowing a run and striking out 22.
With a bullpen this deep and dominant, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan knows the Gators aren’t going to give up very many big innings and they can buy time for the offense to come around.
“It’s a pretty deep lineup,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Our bullpen is good so if we do fall behind we have multiple guys we can go to to kind of settle things down to give our offense a chance to get back into it.”
Once Tucker gave the Gators the lead with his sixth home run of the season off the scoreboard in right field, it jump started the offense. The Gators added single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings and three in the eighth to put away the Seminoles (14-2), who dropped their first game since February 24.
The Seminoles drew first blood off Florida freshman Bobby Poyner in the third when Stephen McGee led off with a single that somehow skipped under the gloves of both Josh Tobias at third and Nolan Fontana at shortstop. A sacrifice by Seth Miller sent McGee to third and that was followed by a walk to Sherman Johnson. Devon Travis dropped a bunt down the third base line that Tobias fielded cleanly but his throw hit Travis on the right shoulder and skipped down the right field line in foul territory. By the time Preston Tucker got the ball back to the infield, McGee and Johnson had scored to make it 2-0 and Travis was on second.
Poyner bounced back to strike out James Ramsey but Jayce Boyd was walked intentionally to set up a force. That was the end for Poyner who gave way to brought on Larson who needed four pitches to dispose of John Nogowski on a bouncer to Fontana at shortstop for the final out.
Florida retaliated with three in its half of the inning. Walks to Tyler Thompson and Nolan Fontana brought starter Luke Weaver’s night to a close and brought on Scott Sitz from the bullpen. Sitz got Daniel Pigott on a called third strike but he left a 1-0 fast ball over the plate for Preston Tucker, who got his arms extended and drove the ball off the scoreboard in right field to make it a 3-2 game.
The Gators added a run in the fourth when Tobias doubled down the left field line and moved to third on a bunt down the third base line by Thompson. Nolan Fontana’s ground out to second scored Tobias to give the Gators a 4-2 lead.
Fontana made it a 5-2 game in the bottom of the sixth when he launched his fourth home run of the season deep over the wall in right field. Fontana only hit five homers all last season.
“Our strength coach has worked with all of us,” Fontana said, explaining the power surge. “Coach Paul Chandler has worked with all of us and he has worked with us in certain aspects of our game ... just overall strength and getting older and stronger.”
The Gators made it a 4-run game in the bottom of the seventh when Tucker led off with a triple down the right field line, his first 3-bagger since the 2010 season. Tucker’s hard smash touched down just a few inches fair just past the first base bag and rolled into the corner. Mike Zunino followed with a line drive to center that James Ramsey caught in stride but his strong throw home was just a little bit up the line as Tucker slid in to make the score 6-2.
Florida brought in Daniel Gibson to pitch the eighth, but he gave way to Austin Maddox after giving up his second hit of the inning with two out. O’Sullivan brought on closer Austin Maddox to face Jayce Boyd, hitting .421 coming into the game. Boyd battled Maddox for eight pitches before lining the ninth to second baseman Casey Turgeon for the final out of the inning.
FSU brought in Brian Busch to pitch the eighth, but a single to Turgeon, walks to Thompson and Fontana and a two-run single to center by Daniel Pigott made it an 8-2 game. Following a check swing strikeout of Tucker, Zunino delivered a sharp single that one-hopped off the pitcher’s mound into center field to score Fontana with Florida’s final run of the night.
Maddox made short order of the FSU bats in the ninth, putting down John Nogowski on strikes, Justin Gonzalez on a diving catch in center field by Thompson and Jose Brizuela on a high pop fly to center field to end the game.
GAME NOTES: Tucker went 2-4 with three RBI while Zunino picked up his 22nd and 23rd RBI … Tobias raised his batting average from .189 to .225 with two hits … Florida hitters worked FSU pitchers for seven walks. Florida relief pitchers didn’t give up a single walk.