Gators Drop Series Finale

On a team with returning starters in the field and in the weekend rotation, the middle relief was the concern heading into the season for No. 1 Florida. There weren't many concerns eased on Sunday. The bullpen blew a 3-0 lead by allowing eight runs in five innings of work, as No. 16 Cal State Fullerton salvaged the series finale with an 8-5 win over the Gators.

"Their middle relief was better than our middle relief," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "They took advantage of some of our pitching there in the middle of the game.

"Our middle relief will get better. We've got a lot of new, young faces."

Seven pitchers came out of the bullpen for the Gators, and only two of them threw more than 10.1 innings last season. Jonathon Crawford had the worst line (0.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R), but O'Sullivan said he threw the ball well and just had some bouncing balls squeak through the infield.

The bullpen allowed 13 hits in its five innings of work. The freshman trio of John Magliozzi, Justin Shafer and Bobby Poyner combined to throw 3.1 innings of shutout ball but gave up five hits and didn't record a strikeout. O'Sullivan was just happy to see them get their feet wet in college baseball.

"It was a success this weekend in that we won two-of-three, but we've also seen some things we need to improve on," O'Sullivan said. "Sometimes when you don't play as good of competition, those things can get overlooked. We certainly have a good list of things to improve on."

The big moment came in the sixth inning. With Florida down a run, left-hander Steven Rodriguez came in after throwing 2.1-shutout innings on Friday. Carlos Lopez welcomed him with an RBI single, and freshman J.D. Davis launched a towering three-run home run to left field after that, giving the Titans an 8-3 advance.

When Lopez crossed the plate on the home run, he shouted expletives that were easy to hear by the Florida players. The next pitch from Rodriguez went behind Austin Kingsolver, and Rodriguez was thrown out of the game.

"Once it happened and he got thrown out, I haven't even had a chance to talk to him yet," O'Sullivan said. "I thought we lost our poise a bit right there, and we'll address it. Nothing good comes out of a situation like that for either team. That's not anything we preach or condone. Emotions were running high, and we need to show better poise in that situation."

The bullpen struggles spoiled the outing by left-hander Brian Johnson. The junior started and went four innings, allowing two hits, one walk and one hit batter while striking out five. Johnson was pulled after four innings of work because he threw 75 pitches, while the target for the starting pitchers this weekend was to stay between 70-75. He worked multiple deep counts in the game, including the second inning where Johnson faced the minimum but still threw 22 pitches.

Johnson gave up just four balls hit to the outfield and threw 48 of his 75 pitches for strikes.

"My arm felt really good. It felt loose," Johnson said. "I didn't have all my control the first inning, but I put it all together and then my pitch count went high. It was definitely a flukey thing. I wanted to pitch to contact, but I give them credit. They knew the zone and didn't swing at anything off the plate."

The Gators produced their three-run inning with the help of only one hit. Cal State Fullerton starter Kenny Mathews started the inning by hitting Vickash Ramjit and Tyler Thompson with pitches back-to-back. After Josh Tobias struck out for the second out of the inning, Casey Turgeon walked to load the bases.

Nolan Fontana then got hit with a pitch that clipped his helmet to score a run. Daniel Pigott followed with a two-run single to center field, giving Florida an early 3-0 advantage.

The offense was slowed on Sunday and scored just 5.7 runs per game this weekend.

"I saw our guys swinging the bat really, really well against our own pitching for a long period of time here," O'Sullivan said. "In my mind, we're a much better offensive team than we showed this weekend. We've got some work to do."

The Gators added a run in the seventh inning when Preston Tucker homered into the right-center field bullpen for his second home run of the year. Tucker is now two RBIs away from tying the school record.

Nolan Fontana also added an RBI single in the eighth inning when he scored Josh Tobias.

"I know that we're better than we played," Pigott said about the Florida offense. "We had some good swings today, but they don't always fall the way you want them to. People were just anxious this first weekend to take some hacks and get some swings in there."

The Sunday offense was more about what didn't happen. Florida went 2-12 with runners in scoring position, including bad innings in the third and fifth. Mike Zunino singled and moved to third when Austin Maddox doubled to start the third inning.

The inning ended with them standing in their same spots after Vickash Ramjit fouled out to the catcher, Tyler Thompson struck out and Tobias popped out to first base.

"Offensively, we've just got to do a better job of moving the ball," O'Sullivan said." The infield is playing back, so if we hit two groundballs there, we'd go up 5-0. Who knows what would've happened at that point. It gave them momentum."

In the fifth inning, Tucker stroked a leadoff double to right-center field but didn't move.

Florida returns to action on Tuesday when it hosts Bethune-Cookman at 7 p.m. Freshman right-hander John Magliozzi, who threw one shutout inning and allowed two hits on Sunday, is expected to get the start.

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