Tucker Leads Gators to Series Win

When Preston Tucker gets hot, he can carry the team for multiple games. The junior did it again on Sunday. Tucker hit two home runs, including a grand slam, while driving in six runs to help No. 4 Florida (28-9/11-4 SEC) win the series at Georgia after a 14-7 win Sunday at Foley Field.

Both home runs couldn't have come at more important times for the Gators. The first came after Georgia bounced back from a 6-1 deficit to take a 7-6 lead in the sixth inning. After Mike Zunino singled to start the seventh inning, Tucker blasted a two-run home run to give the Gators an 8-7 lead.

The most important swing came in the eighth inning. Florida still had a one-run lead, but the Bulldogs were still in the game. That changed after Tucker unloaded on a hanging breaking ball to hit a towering grand slam over the right field fence, pushing the Florida lead to 12-7.

Tucker came into Sunday, the 15th game of SEC play, without a conference home run. He left Athens on Sunday with two.

"That's what you need from your really good players," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We'd been waiting for him to jump start this thing. They were huge hits and separated us a little bit."

The Florida offense exploded for four runs in the first inning, but most of it came with some help from Georgia starting pitcher Craig Gullickson. The left-hander walked three batters and hit one as the Gators recorded only two hits in the inning.

Florida tacked onto its lead with a two-run home run from Brian Johnson in the fifth inning.

The 3-6 hitters in the Florida lineup, which were Zunino, Tucker, Austin Maddox and Johnson, combined to go 11-for-17 with nine runs scored and ten RBIs.

"We've been saying all along that they need to drive the ball," O'Sullivan said. "I'm not saying they need to hit double digit home runs, but we need some doubles and hard line drives in the gaps. They all had really good weekends swinging the bat."

Freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson got the start on the mound, giving up six hits and two walks on three runs. He also recorded five strikeouts. His pitch count was high, so O'Sullivan went to the bullpen to start the sixth inning.

"He threw some really good breaking balls," O'Sullivan said. "If he could just limit his pitch count a little bit and command his pitches a little better in certain situations, I think he's really going to take off. He threw some big league breaking balls today. He really threw some quality change-ups, too."

He went to junior Alex Panteliodis, but the left-hander didn't record an out while giving up four hits and four runs. Steven Rodriguez relieved him with the bases loaded and no outs. He induced a strikeout from Levi Hyams, before allowing a walk and an infield single that tied the game at six.

Greg Larson (1-1) came out of the bullpen to get two groundouts to end the inning, although Georgia pushed across the go-ahead run. Larson completed 3.2 innings, giving up five hits and recording one strikeout. He was dominant when the Gators needed him to be, allowing the hits late in the game when the Florida win was secure.

The Gators will end their eight-game road trip on Wednesday in Orlando when they take on UCF at 6:30 p.m. Florida will return home April 22-24 to host Alabama.

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