Johnson Impressive in Season Opener

Brian Johnson didn't have to wait long to figure out whether or not he would throw well Friday night. He knew it from the first pitch. The sophomore left-hander dealt six shutout innings and did damage with the bat to help the Gators record a 7-2 win over USF on opening night at McKethan Stadium.

"Coach was preaching about throwing first pitch strikes," Johnson said, who threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of 18 Bulls hitters. "If you throw strikes, they've got to swing at it. Working ahead makes it a lot easier. It's what we've preached all year, and you've got to stay with what you practice."

The left-hander threw only 67 pitches, 51 for strikes. The USF hitters came out aggressive, swinging early in the count. Johnson used it against them. He threw first-pitch curveballs to keep them off balance and finished hitters by throwing his fastball by them.

He faced the minimum 18 hitters in six innings because of help from his defense. He allowed singles in the second and third innings that were erased by double plays, one started by Johnson himself. The left-hander didn't issue a two-ball count until the 5th inning.

After the second and third inning passed, Johnson cruised to the win. However, he might have been on cruise control the entire time. He had command of all his pitches, including a changeup that continues to improve.

"He was very efficient and in control the whole night," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's got that changeup now. Most of the time when they're freshmen, it's either a fastball or they spin the ball (to throw a curveball). The changeup is usually the last pitch to come along. He's got as good of a change as anyone on our team right now. It's a plus pitch."

While Johnson kept the Bulls offense quiet, the Florida offense got going in the third inning. USF starting pitcher Randy Fontanez came in with a dominant reputation, and he looked like it for the first two innings. He allowed only a double to Preston Tucker and recorded three strikeouts in the first two innings.

Then the Florida offense broke out.

Freshman Zack Powers added the first hit of his career to start the third inning rally, coming on the first pitch of the at-bat. Nolan Fontana and Josh Adams added hits on the first pitch of their at-bats to load the bases with one out.

Preston Tucker hit a bloop single to left field to score Powers, and Austin Maddox scored Fontana on a sacrifice fly to the right field warning track. Johnson doubled to score Adams and give the Gators a 3-0 lead after the third inning.

It wouldn't have happened without a change in approach.

"The first time through (the lineup), we were going to see a lot of pitches," Fontana said. "We talked about that, and then the second time through we got those back-to-back-to-back to get things started."

The patient approach the first time through the order saw Fontanez pounding the strike zone and attacking. The Florida hitters tried to hit from behind in the count, and it wasn't working.

So they decided to be aggressive.

"We made an adjustment and that's what good teams have to do," O'Sullivan said. "They did a nice job adjusting that second time through. He was jumping ahead early in the game, and it felt like we were hitting off our heels a little bit. He just kept coming at us, so we just needed to make an adjustment."

The Gators poured on four runs in the fifth inning. Tucker added a two-run home run to push the lead to five runs. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Bryson Smith hit a ground ball that was misfielded by Bulls third baseman Jonathan Koscso, allowing two more runs to score.

Tucker ended the game 3-for-5 with double and a home run. He drove in three runs and scored one. He had a shot for the triple in his final two at bats to complete the cycle, but he flew out and grounded out.

The home run came on a swing that looked like Tucker from his freshman season. After having a down sophomore year, he hit a line drive off home over the 365-foot sign in right-center field.

"It was a changeup low and away. It was a pretty good pitch, but I put a good swing on it trying to get the run in from third."

Junior Anthony DeSclafani and freshman Jonathan Crawford threw the seventh and eighth innings respectively. DeSclafani recorded a strikeout and didn't allow a base runner.

Crawford allowed two singles to start the inning before getting two strikeouts and a fly out to get out of the jam.

"You can tell he's got really good stuff," O'Sullivan said about the freshman. "He's got a live fastball and it's firm, up to 93-94 (mph). He's got some secondary stuff to go with it. His composure was outstanding. Most kids get out there with first and second, and things fall apart for them. He kept coming at them and pitched great."

Alex Panteliodis allowed the two runs while throwing the ninth inning. He gave up three hits and two runs while striking out one. It wasn't the best performance, but it was more about getting his feet wet after hip surgery in the fall. He is still expected to start Tuesday night at Florida Atlantic.

The series continues as the Gators take on the Bulls Saturday at 4 p.m. Florida sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall is schedule to take on USF left-hander Andrew Barbosa.

Since the Gators are facing a left-handed pitcher, O'Sullivan expects to load the lineup with right-handed bats. Ben McMahan should start at either designated hitter or first base, while Daniel Pigott and Bryson Smith are expected to start in left and center field respectively.

Fightin Gators Top Stories