Whitson, Gators Complete Sweep of USF

The expectations for Karsten Whitson's first start built since he first stepped on campus in the fall. The 2010 first round MLB Draft selection turned down a reported $2.1 million from the San Diego Padres to pitch for the Gators, and he lived up to the hype. His five-inning performance might have actually surpassed the hype.

Whitson picked up his first collegiate win Sunday as Florida cruised to a 5-0 victory and swept the series against USF.

"I was pleased with the way we came out today," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said after the Gators shutout USF for the first time since 1988. "The last game of the series is always the most difficult one. We've got to feel good about our staff right now, but we've got some stuff to work on."

Whitson only went five innings because of the pitch count of 70 O'Sullivan had for all the starting pitchers this weekend.

However, those five innings were lights out.

The freshman struck out nine hitters, including five straight from the third to fifth inning. He struck out two hitters in each of the first two innings while striking out the side in the fourth.

It wasn't just that Whitson (1-0) recorded the strikeouts- it was more about how he got them.

His overpowering fastball dominated USF hitters all day, sitting between 93-94 mph and touching 96 mph a few times. After he pounded the strike zone with his fastball and had hitters trying to time the pitch, he dropped in a slider that wasn't hit hard all day. The slider was ranked as one of the best off-speed pitches in high school baseball last year, and O'Sullivan said it is 86-87 mph sometimes. Whitson even added in a new changeup two or three times.

After allowing a two-out hit in the first inning, Whitson set the next eleven batters down. He allowed only one more base runner in his five innings, coming on a one-out walk in the fifth inning.

"I was really excited and just wanted to get out here and throw strikes," Whitson said. "I was just trying to throw strikes and let my team behind me make plays. When you've got guys like Nolan (Fontana) and (Josh) Adams behind you, all you're worried about is keeping the ball low and letting them put it in play for you."

The defense made only one error on the weekend, so it allows the pitchers to pitch to contact and get easy outs to keep the pitch count down. With the pitch count of 70, it was even more impressive for Whitson to strike out nine hitters and still go five innings. He threw 66 pitches on the day and 44 were strikes.

"That's the one thing we've been preaching to him," O'Sullivan said. "He's going to rack up some strikeouts, but to be a starter, you've got to be efficient. He's got good sink on his fastball. He's got a quality changeup. You don't need to strikeout everybody. If he can learn and continue to be efficient, he can get deeper into games."

If Whitson showed any signs of fatigue, it came with one out in the fifth. He fell behind USF left fielder Junior Carlin and eventually walked him. After throwing a ball to Chad Taylor during the next at-bat, O'Sullivan made a first to the mound.

The first pitch after the visit induced a ground ball to Adams at second, who flipped to Adams and on to first for the double play to end the inning. The fatigue came in the fifth inning because Whitson hasn't thrown more than three innings in a scrimmage since coming to campus. The Florida coaches built his arm up to go five innings on Sunday, and they will look to stretch him out more as the season goes on to let the starters go deeper into games.

Preston Tucker singled in Fontana in the first inning to get the Gators on the board, and they added two runs in the fourth inning on a solo home run by Mike Zunino and an RBI single by Daniel Pigott.

Austin Maddox's sixth inning sacrifice fly and another RBI single by Pigott in the seventh inning served as insurance runs, but they weren't necessary with the way the Florida pitchers threw the ball this weekend.

Pigott is 4-for-7 after starting on Saturday and Sunday in left field. He brings a speed-power combination to the bottom of the order that could benefit the offense as the season goes on.

"He swung the bat very well this weekend," O'Sullivan said. "Overall, the at-bats were quality, and we'll only get better as we go along and see more pitching."

Fontana went 2-for-3 on Sunday, continuing his torrid start at the plate. The sophomore is 9-for-12 on the weekend with five runs scored and a .786 on-base percentage at the top of the order.

"I'm just seeing the ball well," Fontana said. "Saying it looks like a beach ball right now would be an understatement. It felt good being up at the plate this weekend."

Florida heads to Jupiter on Tuesday for their first road game of the season against FAU, who swept Hofstra over the weekend. The Gators will throw junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis, who went 11-3 with a 3.51 ERA last season.

First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Roger Dean Stadium. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Florida.

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