Johnson Rebounds in Florida Win

Brian Johnson went to work this week to make corrections. After allowing nine hits and five runs in 3.1 innings at Miami last weekend, Johnson and Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan had to slow things down. The left-hander is high energy and likes to pitch quickly, but sometimes that can hamper him. Johnson rebounded for a strong outing as the No. 1 Gators beat Florida Gulf Coast 8-3 on Saturday.

Johnson (2-0) tries to get an advantage against opponents by keeping as little time as possible from the moment he receives the ball back from the catcher to when he starts his windup. That hurt him last weekend at Miami, as Johnson picked up the pace of his windup so much that it was affecting his command.

"He was much more in control today," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "This was his best start. He has a tendency to want to work fast, and that's a really good quality, but sometimes it's a little too quick. He got his delivery under control and executed pitches better."

The quick tempo hindered Johnson from finishing on his pitches and throwing down in the strike zone. Especially with his off-speed pitches, he released the ball too soon because of the quick pace, leaving them up and hittable over the heart of the plate.

That was noticeably different on Saturday.

After Johnson allowed a single to start the game, he set down 14 of the next 15 hitters. He ended the game throwing six innings, allowing five hits, three runs and six strikeouts.

"I felt the best (I have) so far," Brian Johnson said. "I was throwing all my pitches for strikes and worked ahead in the count."

Florida catcher Mike Zunino, who chipped in with a 2-5 performance at the plate, was calling most of the game. O'Sullivan started letting him do that last season, but it has increased early in Zunino's junior year.

"(Johnson) got in a groove, and from there, it gets pretty easy," Zunino said. "He was executing his pitches. I was just throwing numbers down and he was doing the rest of it."

Greg Larson and Daniel Gibson combined to throw three shutout innings and strike out three to end the game.

The Florida offense did half of its damage during a four-run first. Florida Gulf Coast starting pitcher Brandon Bixler came in with a 1.02 ERA but eleven walks in 17.2 innings pitched. That came back to hurt him again on Saturday.

Bixler started the game by walking two Florida hitters and hitting one to load the bases before recording an out. Zunino got the Gators on the board with a two-run single and Taylor Gushue added one run on a single to center field. Austin Maddox had a sacrifice fly before the inning was over.

After Preston Tucker chipped in with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, the Gators looked like they were ready to explode in the fourth inning.

Florida (14-1) had the bases loaded for Tucker with one out, but the senior fouled out to third base. After the third baseman threw the ball back to the pitcher, Florida Gulf Coast catcher Mike Reeves ran out to the mound for a chat.

He did so without calling timeout.

Florida freshman Josh Tobias was standing on third base watching the play develop, and he turned to third base coach Craig Bell to ask if he saw the same thing. Tobias took a few steps off the base before breaking into a full sprint and scoring without the Eagles knowing what happened.

"I stepped off the base a little bit to see what they would do because I always make sure they're in the game," Tobias said. "I saw him walking towards (the pitcher's mound), so I just said, ‘I'm going to go right here.'"

Florida will send sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (1-1, 6.94 ERA) to the mound on Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast senior right-hander Jason Forjet (0-1, 2.50).


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