Florida Offense Continues Slump in Loss

The offensive inconsistencies continued for No. 5 Florida on Saturday. The Gators were only able to manage three hits against junior right-hander Kendall Graveman. Florida had just one man reach third base and struggled to get any momentum going on offense as No. 25 Mississippi State evened up the series with a 2-0 win at McKethan Stadium to set up and important rubber game on Sunday.

"Graveman threw the ball great," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said after the game. "He didn't elevate the ball, and we didn't get in many advantage counts. We just didn't square up any balls and couldn't do anything offensively tonight.

"He had a lot to do with (the offensive struggles). It's not like we were facing somebody who isn't very good. He sunk the ball and didn't make many mistakes. He just didn't."

The chances for the Florida offense didn't happen often. The Gators were no-hit for the first four innings before freshman left fielder Justin Shafer got the Gators in the hit column with a leadoff single in the fifth inning.

He moved to the third base when Austin Maddox singled on a hit-and-run. That's when the same thing continued to plague the Gators—hitting with runners in scoring position.

Third baseman Josh Tobias crushed a line drive right at Bulldogs third baseman Sam Frost for the first out of the inning. First baseman Vickash Ramjit then hit a weak ground ball to second base off Kendall Graveman that turned into an inning ending double play.

"Tobias had a good at-bat and lines the ball at third base where the third baseman makes a great play," O'Sullivan said. "The next at-bat was the one we need to do a better job.

"We took a fastball, so we fall behind 0-1 and have to expand the zone a little bit. Then we hit into the double play there. We needed to score one there and hit a fly ball to cut the lead in half."

The offensive struggles have plagued the team throughout SEC play. The pitching is better in conference play, but veterans that have led the Gators in the previous two years are now struggling at the plate

Mike Zunino, an All-American catcher and likely top-five overall pick in next month's MLB Draft, is hitting just .235 in conference play. Nolan Fontana is hitting .229. It's the veterans at the top of the lineup that need to improve for the offense to get better.

"The bottom line is this team will go as far as it can with the guys who have been here for the last three or fours years," O'Sullivan said. "They've just got to have better at-bats. We know they can do it, and they will do it. It's just hopefully sooner rather than later.

"It has been a yearlong thing. We've just got to do a better job offensively to manufacture runs. When we get opportunities to score, we've got to have good at-bats."

Shafer had two of the three hits for the Gators. While his bat is coming on near the end of his freshman season, the players around him in the lineup haven't.

"I wouldn't consider us in a slump," Shafer said. "I just think we should come out and play, and it'll work itself goes out as the season goes on."

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford got the start on the mound for the Gators after Brian Johnson was a late scratch because of a sore hamstring he suffered while rounding first base on a single Friday night.

O'Sullivan said he expects Johnson to be fine. He was on deck to pinch hit when the final out of the game was made.

"I think he's fine," O'Sullivan said. "When you get to this point in the season, you don't want to take any chances for it to be a lingering thing. He was day-to-day today, and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."

Crawford gave up two runs in four innings, but right-hander Keenan Kish kept the Gators in the game. The sophomore threw 3.2 innings, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out four hitters.

"You can tell our confidence—it was only a 2-0 ball game, and we had a lot of confidence in him," O'Sullivan said. "He has been throwing the ball great."

The rubber game of the series will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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