Late Florida Defense Clinches Series Win

Defense looked like it might cost No. 4 Florida the game in the ninth inning, but it was the defense that would eventually save the game for the Gators. After Mississippi State loaded the bases, Florida (26-7/9-3 SEC) produced two game-saving catches to clinch the Gators' 3-1 victory that won the weekend series in Starkville.

Florida closer Anthony DeSclafani gave up a single to Nick Vickerson to start the inning. After Jonathan Ogden struck out looking, Adam Frazier hit a comebacker to DeSclafani. He turned to start a double play that would have ended the game, but DeSclafani's throw was high and went into center field.

Jaron Shepherd single to left field to load the bases, and O'Sullivan brought in first baseman Austin Maddox, who got the Gators on the board with a fourth inning RBI single, to work out of trouble.

"That was a tough situation with bases loaded on the road with a good crowd," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said on his post game radio show. "They had some good hitters coming up."

Wes Thigpen hit a fly ball into short right field that looked like trouble off the bat. Right fielder Kamm Washington, who was a defensive replacement for Preston Tucker, ran in and made a diving catch to save a run.

C.T. Bradford then popped up a pitch into foul territory by third base. Florida third baseman Zack Powers sprinted towards the wall and made a leaping catch between the crowd and the field, coming down with the ball to end the game.

"It was an unbelievable play by Powers there at the end to seal the win," O'Sullivan said.

The Gators had a lead to protect because of clutch hitting by Tucker in the seventh inning. The inning started off without harm as the first two outs came easily. Zack Powers grounded a two-out single into right field, and Nolan Fontana walked. Josh Adams hit a ground ball to shortstop, but Ogden couldn't field it and the bases were loaded. Tucker then bounced a single into center field to give the Gators a 3-1 advantage.

It was a welcome sigh of relief for an offense that has been up and down in recent weeks. The Gators plated 18 runs during Saturday's game, and Tucker's clutch hit is what they're hoping will continue the offensive momentum.

"We've been trying to do too much at the plate," O'Sullivan said. "We're trying to swing too hard or getting too pull happy. He just put a good swing on it and hit a line drive. We're going to need that from Tuck. We're learning as we go along."

Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson lasted 5.1 innings to tie a career high. The freshman allowed five hits, two walks and one run while striking out three. Whitson continues to get better with each start, and his performance on Sunday might have been his top one in a Florida uniform.

"I thought that might have been his best outing of the year," O'Sullivan said. "He threw the ball downhill and commanded the strike zone with all of his pitches.

"He's pitching, he's not just throwing. He's location his secondary stuff better and when he needs to. He battled, and that's a huge part of the game."

Steven Rodriguez (2-1) picked up the win after throwing 1.2 scoreless innings where he didn't allow a base runner. Nick Maronde and Tommy Toledo worked through the eighth inning to bridge the gap to DeSclafani and Maddox in the ninth.

The Gators will get one day at home before traveling to Tallahassee on Tuesday night to take on No. 9 Florida State at 6 p.m. The Gators have not announced a starting pitcher.

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