Gator Offense Takes Care of Manhattan

The Florida offense carried momentum from the SEC Tournament, but even without that, Friday's NCAA Regional opener wouldn't have been a problem. The Gators got off to a hot started and were able to save some pitching for the rest of the Regional, as they batted around in each of the first three innings and poured on 23 hits to secure a 17-3 win over No. 4 seed Manhattan (34-18).

"When you see other guys succeeding in front of you, it gives you a lot of confidence," said Florida right fielder Preston Tucker, who blasted two home runs in the first three innings. "(Manhattan starting pitcher John Soldinger) struggled to throw the off-speed for strikes, so we knew we were going to get fastballs."  

In the first three innings, the 2-5 spots of the order reached base in 11 of their 12 plate appearances. The only time the player didn't reach came on a sacrifice bunt from Josh Adams, which didn't count as an official at-bat.  

Bryson Smith, Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino and Josh Adams combined to go 11-for-11 in the first three innings with three home runs, 11 runs scored and seven RBIs.  

"Every time they swung, it seemed like they got a hit," Manhattan head coach Kevin Leighton said. "It was like a flood, and we just didn't have enough sandbags to stop it."  

Tucker met with Zunino earlier this week to discuss his approach. Tucker only recorded two hits in five games at the SEC Tournament, so he wanted to refocus at the plate. Zunino's message was simple. He told Tucker to quit missing fastballs.  

Tucker regrouped by hitting two fastballs over the fence, one into the bullpen in right-center field and the other over the right field scoreboard, ending at 3-for-6 with five RBIs and three runs scored.  

"We just talked about his approach at the plate and what he does in different counts," Tucker said. "It paid off."  

The top of the order got plenty of credit, but the 6-9 spots in the order didn't exactly struggle during the first three innings. Austin Maddox (replaced by Vickash Ramjit), Tyler Thompson, Daniel Pigott and Cody Dent combined to go 6-for-10 with five RBIs and four runs scored.  

The Gators scored five, four and seven runs in each of the first three innings respectively.  

"We really weren't expecting that kind of run support early on, but we were hoping to get an early lead," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.  

Florida collected 23 hits total in the game, setting a new school record for hits in a postseason game. The previous record was 22 against Miami in the 2009 Gainesville Regional final.  

Freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson started on the mound for the Gators, but O'Sullivan pulled him after 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out three. He only threw 47 pitches, 30 for strikes, so it's possible that Whitson could return later in the Regional if the Gators need him.  

"We haven't done that with him all year long, and I'm not saying that we are going to do that," O'Sullivan said. "It depends on how his arm feels if he's willing to do it. I thought it was smart to at least have the option."  

Freshman Keenan Kish threw a career high 3.2 innings in relief, allowing five hits and three unearned runs while striking out three. Matt Campbell and Daniel Gibson threw a perfect two innings to close the game.  

Manhattan starting pitcher John Soldinger came into the game with a 2.34 ERA in 104 innings this year. After he allowed 15 earned runs and 16 hits in 2+ innings of work, the MAAC Pitcher of the Year's ERA ballooned to 4.75.  

Tyler Thompson recorded a career high four hits and scored three runs. The Florida offense hit .511 (23-45) in the game, including hitting .692 (18-26) in the first three innings. Every starter except Austin Maddox, who only got two at-bats before being pulled with a sprained foot, recorded at least two hits. Maddox's status was unknown after the game.  

The win sets up a matchup between Florida and Miami on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Gators will send Hudson Randall (9-3, 2.25) to the mound against Miami sophomore right-hander Eric Whaley (7-5, 2.55).  

"It's a huge rivalry," Tucker said. "They know how to compete and they're a very confident team. We know there will be a good crowd and a close game. We're looking forward to it."

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