Johnson Pitches Gators to Another Victory

Brian Johnson can be hit. Rhode Island proved that the Florida ace isn't perfect, scoring three runs off the left-hander with two outs in the fourth inning. That wasn't as important as how Johnson responded. He added three scoreless innings after the struggles, allowing No. 1 Florida to cruise to an 11-5 win over the Rams on Friday night.

"I guess (the fourth inning) proves he's human," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan quipped after his 100th home win and 200th game as Florida head coach.

Johnson went a season-high seven innings, allowing six hits and three runs while striking out five hitters. The three runs in the fourth inning were the first he had given up this season, snapping his scoreless streak at 20.2 innings and good for third longest in school history.

Johnson (4-0, 1.12) also threw 92 pitches, 66 for strikes. O'Sullivan wanted to stretch all of his starters out by the time conference play began, and with the Gators opening at LSU next weekend, this was the time.

"I wouldn't say we've babied their arms so far, but we've been very careful," O'Sullivan said. "It's nice to see him get to 90 pitches. That was the goal all along, to ease him into it, and once we got to LSU next weekend, he's at that 100-pitch plateau now."

On the mound, it was a familiar feel for Johnson. He threw strikes early in the count and forced the Rhode Island hitters to get themselves out. Outside of his issues in the fourth inning, Johnson allowed only one base runner on a seventh inning single.

"I felt real loose," Johnson said. "I thought I'd be a little stiff with the cold, but I felt real good. I just left a couple pitches up (in the fourth inning), but it's going to happen. We just have to work on that now and focus on getting the ball down."

While Johnson threw zeros on the board early, the Florida offense got going in the third inning. Ben McMahan started the inning with a double and scored when Tyler Palmer laid down a sacrifice bunt that Rhode Island pitcher Chris Pickering threw up the right field line. After Nolan Fontana walked, Daniel Pigott lined a two-run double into left-center field. Preston Tucker then reached on an infield single, but Rhode Island shortstop Mike LeBel threw the ball away to let Pigott score.

"I really liked our approach offensively," O'Sullivan said. "I thought we were aggressive, and we stung some balls tonight. Eight of the nine starters had hits. It was good to see.

"Hopefully we're finding our groove, and that's our role as a coaching staff. We want our team to learn from their mistakes and hopefully get ready for conference play."

Florida added on in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Mike Zunino and a two-run double by Josh Adams. It came after Rhode Island cut the score to 4-3, helping the Gators steal the momentum back.

"They had the momentum going, so we wanted to get it back on our side," Adams said. "It helped fuel us a little bit and get us going."

Johnson's scoreless streak on the mound wasn't the only one that came to an end.

Anthony DeSclafani hadn't given up a run in 9.2 innings this season, but he gave up a two-run home run in the eighth inning.

Florida and Rhode Island continue the series on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Gators will start sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (1-0, 1.00), while the Rams will counter with senior right-hander Kevin Graveline (2-1, 4.96).

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