Zunino Home Run Secures Series Win

When No. 5 Florida needed it most, the leader came through. Florida catcher Mike Zunino, along with the entire lineup, was in a slump—just 2-20 in the previous six SEC games. Zunino launched a tie-breaking solo home run in the eighth inning on Sunday to put some momentum in the Gators dugout and give Florida a 2-1 win to clinch the series over Mississippi State.

"The home run by Mike helped us win today's game, but I think more importantly, it should give us a lot of confidence," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It was very uplifting for the entire team.

"That's what your best players do. They step up and have great at-bats. He has done that over and over during his career here at Florida—I'm not sure any bigger than that one, as far as this season is concerned."

The blast ended a long, frustrating day for the Florida offense. The Gators recorded just three hits on the day, and one of them was an infield single that Vickash Ramjit beat out on a ground ball to shortstop.

Mississippi State starting pitcher Evan Mitchell walked four in his 2.2 innings of work, but the Gators could only score one against him.

Before Zunino's home run, the Mississippi State pitching staff had retired 14 of the previous 15 Gators hitters.

"I got fired up. Everyone got fired up," Florida closer Austin Maddox said. "I think we're going to turn it around hitting. The hits are going to come. Mike always tends to step up when we need him."

Four of Florida's eight innings at the plate ended with only three batters coming to the plate and without a base runner.

"We were battling the whole day," Zunino said. "We put some good swings on balls but right at people. It was nice to catch a break and push a run across there.

"It's tough. We haven't swung the bat how we wanted to. It's just a work in progress, but we're battling every game and trying to get it turned around."

O'Sullivan doesn't see many options for new things to do to motivate the hitting. The Gators have players in the lineup that have proven they can hit—they just aren't producing. It has been a drawn out slump, but the Florida head coach is remaining optimistic.

"It's baseball," O'Sullivan said. "When you're around this game as much as I've been or other people have been, there's nothing you can say or do other than encourage and keep working at it. At some point, we have talent and it's going to turn around.

"I'm going to take that home run in the eighth, I'm going to sleep really well tonight, and I'm going to come back tomorrow with a positive attitude with our team."

The Gators will leave on Monday for an extended road trip. It starts on Tuesday at Samford and moves to Auburn for the final SEC weekend series of the year on Thursday-Saturday.

The Gators will then likely begin play at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., next Tuesday.

"I want our team to bond," O'Sullivan said. "We've got a two-week stretch here where we're going to be on the road. I think it's going to be a great time for our team to bond and gel as a team even more than we have and get ready for the postseason."

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