Fontana's Defense Helps Secure UF Victory

Everyone in the stadium thought USF shortstop Sam Mende's bases loaded ground ball was up the middle. The Gators were clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh inning when Mende looked like he put the Bulls ahead. Out of nowhere flew Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana. He slid, gloved and flipped to second baseman Josh Adams to end the inning and help the Gators to secure a 4-1 victory.

"The play by Nolan was an outstanding play," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It was a game changer."

Nick Maronde started the seventh inning on the mound, but he loaded the based with two outs on two hits and a walk. O'Sullivan went to the bullpen, calling on junior right-hander Tommy Toledo to get out of the jam. He fell behind 2-0 in the count before Fontana made the play up the middle that might have saved the game.

"That was a big play," Toledo said. "It was definitely a momentum shift. I thought it was a base hit up the middle. He came out of nowhere and made a great play. Everybody was pumped up."

Fontana also made an impact at the plate. He went 3-for-4 and scored a run, making him 7-for-9 in the first two games of the season. The sophomore brings confidence to the top of the lineup, but he always finds a way to impact every aspect of the game.

"I joke with the coaches all the time and say that I'm going to miss him when he's gone," O'Sullivan said. "They always tell me we've still got him for two more years. I'm already missing him. He is exactly what we want for this program. He does the right thing on and off the field. He's a gamer who plays hard and has leadership skills."

The Gators used the momentum from Fontana's play to scratch across another run when Daniel Pigott reached on an infield single to score Ben McMahan. Pigott ended the game 2-3 with an RBI. He also put the Gators ahead after leading off the third inning with a double and scoring when Adams hit into a double play.

"A lot of times you swing the bat and hit that same ball and the third baseman gobbles it up," Pigott said. "Sometimes they don't. It's a good feeling to see it get through the infield."

While the Florida offense was trying to figure out USF starter Andrew Barbosa, starting pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) was cruising. He gave up a run on two hits in the first inning, but it didn't take long for the sophomore to find his groove.

After allowing a one-out double to Mende in the first inning, Randall set down nine straight. He ended the game throwing six innings, allowing seven hits and one run while striking out six batters. Randall didn't walk a batter, and the Florida pitching staff has only walked one in the first two games of the year.

"That's vintage Hudson Randall," O'Sullivan said. "He probably wasn't as sharp as he normally is with his command, to be honest with you. He throws a lot of strikes."

That might be an understatement.

Randall threw 65 pitches on Saturday, with 51 of them in the strike zone. Just as Brian Johnson did on Friday night, Randall had success by getting ahead of hitters early. He threw a first-pitch strike to 22 of the 27 hitters he faced.

"After that first inning, I calmed down and settled into it," Randall said. "My slider was going today and was my outpitch. I started them off early with my curveball and finished them with my slider."

The first inning struggles were caused by some first start jitters, but Randall was also caught off guard by Bulls' plan of attack. After being patient early in the count on Friday night against Johnson, they ambushed Randall early in the count.

"They were swinging first pitch," Randall said. "I gave up five first pitch hits, and that was definitely my weakness today. Yesterday, they were really patient (at the plate). That caught me off guard."

After Toledo came in relief to get the ground out of Mende, he threw the final two innings to record the first save of his career. He went 2.1 innings, allowing two hits and recording a strikeout. The redshirt junior looked comfortable in the role, but O'Sullivan isn't ready to name the right-hander his closer yet.

"He's one of them- or he can start," O'Sullivan said. "It's so early, I don't want to label guys in what roles."

Toledo doesn't care what his role on the team is. He just wants to be on the mound.

"I just want to be out there," Toledo said. "Whatever he wants me to do, I'll do it my best. If he wants me to start, I'll start. If he wants me at the end of the game, I will try my best and see what happens."

The Saturday crowd of 4,994 means that this weekend is closing in on a series record. A crowd of 4,468 would make this the most attended weekend series for Florida baseball, overtaking the home series against Georgia last year.

The Gators and Bulls are set to wrap up the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will match up two freshmen in USF left-hander Nick Gonzalez and Florida right-hander Karsten Whitson.

Whitson was the No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft and turned down a reported $2.1 million to come to campus. The message from his head coach before taking the mound won't be anything special. It'll be the same as the first day Whitson stepped on campus in Gainesville.

"Throw strikes," O'Sullivan said with a laugh. "He's looking forward to it, and we're anxious to get him out there. A lot of things are anticipated of him, and we're not putting any pressure on him. We want him to go out there and have fun."


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