Clutch Zunino Home Run Lifts Gators

Mike Zunino got the Gators on the board in the sixth inning Friday night, but he didn't stop there. The junior did it again. Zunino accounted for all of Florida's runs with a pair of two-run home runs, including one with two outs in the eighth inning, to give No. 1 Florida a 4-2 win to open the series against Florida Gulf Coast.

"He's a player that has the ability to rise to the occasion," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's the player that he is because of situations like that."

The blast in the eighth inning cleared the left field bleachers with ease and was barely starting its descent as it cleared the trees behind the bleachers. There wasn't any doubt in Zunino's mind. With a subtle bat flip and a jog, the catcher put his head down and started the round the bases.

"It's one of those where you just keep working and have the best at-bat you can," Mike Zunino said. "You've got to find your pitch and just not miss it."

Zunino didn't.

He got every bit of it. He fell in a 1-2 hole in the count after watching strike one on the outside part of the plate and fouling a pitch straight back for strike two. Instead of being careful or trying to get Zunino to chase a 1-2 pitch, Florida Gulf Coast freshman right-hander Brady Anderson left a slider hanging over the inside part of the plate.

"I was able to battle with two strikes," Zunino said. "That's all I was trying to do."

Right-hander Hudson Randall capped off the two-man attack from the Gators. The junior went seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs while recording six strikeouts. Randall threw 61 of his 82 pitches for strikes.

"I think this was the best game Huddy pitched (this year)," O'Sullivan said. "He was really sharp and kept the ball down. He made one mistake and Valencia ran into it. Other than that one pitch, he was outstanding. He used both sides of the plate. He moved the ball back and forth."

O'Sullivan said he wanted to keep Randall between 80-90 pitches to prepare his arm for next weekend's SEC opener against Vanderbilt. The 82 pitches he threw have him ready for that start.

"I'm getting back to where I felt at the end of last year," Randall said. "My arm's feeling good and got stronger as the game went on. I could've finished out the game, but we've got a pen for a reason. When you've got guys like that, you've got to use them."

Randall was pulled after he gave up a one-out single to Brandon Bednar in the eighth inning. Florida brought in left-hander Steven Rodriguez, but it was again Zunino who did the damage. On Rodriguez's first pitch, Bednar tried to steal second but was thrown out by Zunino.

Rodriguez closed out the inning with a strikeout.

After Zunino's home run in the bottom of the eighth, there wasn't much doubt what O'Sullivan would do. Rodriguez shut down his half of the inning, but Austin Maddox got the call.

"Austin is our closer," O'Sullivan said. "There's no second guessing or thinking about it."

Florida goes for the series win on Saturday when it sends Brian Johnson (1-0, 3.95) to the mound against Florida Gulf Coast sophomore left-hander Brandon Bixler (2-1, 1.02). First pitch is set for 4 p.m.

Fightin Gators Top Stories