Early Offensive Explosion Lifts No. 1 Gators

COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Florida offense needed a quick response after Thursday night's loss. It came in a big way. After the leadoff hitter, seven consecutive Gators reached base during a five-run first inning that gave No. 1 Florida all the momentum. Starting pitcher Brian Johnson cruised on the mound after that, as the Gators evened the series with an 8-2 win over No. 8 South Carolina on Saturday.

"They jumped out there with five in the first and swung the bat aggressively," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "You've got to do that. We know we have a good team, but we have a lot of things to work on like anybody else."

The offensive onslaught came in a hurry. Daniel Pigott started it with a one-out single before Preston Tucker reached on a walk. Junior catcher Mike Zunino delivered a blow that outscored the entire South Carolina offense on Saturday.

His home run cleared the left-center field bullpen and went onto the wide walkway well beyond the fence.

On the next pitch, Brian Johnson launched an opposite field home run into the front row of the left field bleachers, pushing the Florida lead to 4-0. Johnson ended the game going 2-5 at the plate, and his swing looked much better than it has throughout the early part of the season.

"I think, just like I did on the mound, I just simplified things," Johnson said. "See the ball and hit the ball."

The Florida freshmen loaded the bases after Taylor Gushue and Casey Turgeon walked before classmate Josh Tobias dropped a single into center field. After Cody Dent struck out, South Carolina starting pitcher Forrest Koumas balked to score the fifth run of the inning.

That's when Johnson (4-0) trotted out to the mound.

"It feels good to have a lead, but I still keep the same mentality whether we're down five, up five or it's tied," Johnson said.

After walking the leadoff hitter and allowing a two-out single to Brison Celek, Johnson got LB Dantzler to ground out and end the inning. Once he worked out of the first inning, Johnson retired 14 of the next 15 hitters he faced. The only hitter that reached was a solo home run by Christian Walker in the fourth inning.

"I think I might have nibbled a little bit at first," Johnson said. "I tried to aim the ball instead of just throwing it. I just settled in and started to rely on what I've done this far."

The Florida offense got a spark from an unexpected place. The Gators scored two runs after the first inning was over, both coming on solo home runs by Vickash Ramjit.

Third baseman Josh Tobias was pulled from the game with a wrist injury, moving Cody Dent from center field to third base, Daniel Pigott from left field to center field and sliding Ramjit into left field. He ended the game 3-4 at the plate with two solo home runs.

"When my number was called, I was ready," Ramjit said. "I know my role and I'm fine with it. As long as the team's winning, I'm okay with it."

Ramjit said he played some outfield during summer ball in the Coastal Plains League. He had only one ball hit to him during the game, but he has worked hard on it in recent weeks.

"Today I felt a lot more comfortable than I thought I'd be," Ramjit said. "Daniel Pigott and the coaches were helping me out a lot and made it as easy as possible for me."

Greg Larson and Daniel Gibson tossed three innings of one-hit ball to close the game out.

Florida will send sophomore Jonathon Crawford (2-1, 4.43) to the mound for the game on Saturday. South Carolina will counter with junior right-hander Colby Holmes (3-0, 1.88). First pitch is set for 1 p.m and the game will be broadcast on CSS and ESPN3.

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