Gators Pound MSU; One Win From CWS

The plan of attack for the Gators has been similar in almost every NCAA Tournament game this season. They get an early lead, watch a starting pitcher muffle the opponent and cruise to victory. It happened Friday afternoon in the opening game of the Super Regionals, as Florida scored six runs in the first two innings, coasting to an 11-1 win over Mississippi State.

The Gators are now one win away from the College World Series.

"At this time of year, it's all about momentum," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's how you handle momentum, how you gain momentum and hang onto it."

Florida has carried momentum in all of the postseason games so far, outscoring opponents 34-1 in the first three innings of four postseason games. It allows the Florida starting pitcher to relax and pound the strike zone, so that he doesn't have to be perfect.

However, Hudson Randall was pretty close to it on Friday.

The sophomore threw eight innings, giving up just six hits and one run while recording a season-high eight strikeouts. He threw 115 pitches, a season-high for any Florida pitcher, and 81 were for strikes. Randall got ahead of hitters by throwing first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 31 batters he faced.

"This was definitely one of his greatest outings of the year," catcher Mike Zunino said. "He was throwing everything for strikes. He worked ahead of guys and pitched to contact to allow our defense work. There have been a few other outings where his step was just as good, but Huddy always steps up great to this occasion."

There was some extra motivation for Randall. The worst start of his season came in Starkville against the Bulldogs, when he lasted only 2.1 innings, giving up nine hits, three home runs and six runs. That outing was fresh on his mind as he jogged to the mound Friday.

"They tattooed me over in Starkville," said Randall, whose eight-inning outing was the longest of his postseason career. "I missed pitching against them in the SEC Tournament, so I was really excited to come out and give it another go. Last time, I was just leaving the ball up too much. I got back in the swing of things. I was sinking the ball and hitting my spots."

Randall had 94 pitches through six innings, and with a season-high of 96 coming into Friday, it looked like his day was done. However, O'Sullivan let him go back to the mound for what ended up being two innings. He became the second pitcher on the Florida staff to throw more than 100 pitches, after Brian Johnson threw exactly that against Ole Miss earlier this year.

His outing allowed the Gators to save all of the main arms out of the bullpen as freshman Keenan Kish threw the ninth inning and struck out two hitters.

The Gators gave him plenty of room to work with after loading the bases with no outs in the first inning. Mike Zunino put Florida on the board with a two-run single, and two batters later, Tyler Thompson drove in two more with a double to right-center field.

Nolan Fontana launched his fifth home run of the season in the second inning, putting the Gators up 6-0 early.

"(The early lead) was big and carried momentum throughout the rest of the game," Fontana said. "We tried to grind out at-bats early and wear pitchers down. So far, we've been doing that."

Zunino lined the first pitch of the third inning over the left field fence, while Bryson Smith and Josh Adams had RBI singles of their own in the fourth inning.

While the Florida offense was putting up more runs, Randall was cruising. As his pitch count increased, the sophomore actually got better. He sat down the last nine hitters he faced.

Brian Johnson was expected to be in the Florida lineup, but he wasn't cleared before Friday's game.

"I thought he was going to be able to day," O'Sullivan said. "He's still day-to-day, but we'll let the doctors evaluate him tonight and tomorrow. I won't know until tomorrow at some point. I know he's close, but there's nothing we can do until he's cleared."

Austin Maddox is still listed as day-to-day with foot sprain.

With the questions around Johnson, the Gators will start freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.42) against Mississippi State junior left-hander Nick Routt (3-3, 3.78). First pitch is set for noon.

Fightin Gators Top Stories