Crawford Tosses No-Hitter to Pace Florida

Before Jonathon Crawford threw a pitch on the mound of McKethan Stadium, Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel called what would happen. He returned to the dugout after Crawford's warm up and told head coach Kevin O'Sullivan that the sophomore looked good enough to throw a no-hitter. Crawford executed it as No. 1 Florida secured a 4-0 win over Bethune-Cookman to start the Gainesville Regional.

"Brad makes power statements all the time," O'Sullivan said after the game, clarifying that Weitzel has never predicted a pitcher would throw a no-hitter before Friday. "He claimed it after the bullpen. He's brutally honest. When it's bad, it's bad. When it's good, it's good. (Weitzel) doesn't sugarcoat it. He always tells me it's really good, or it's the worst pen he's ever seen."

The honesty ended up being true on Friday, as Crawford threw the first no-hitter in the NCAA Tournament since 1991.

Jonathon Crawford has always had a dominant arm. The sophomore was still touching 98 mph in the ninth inning on the stadium radar gun. He had nothing to save the velocity for with the game coming to an end, so Crawford was in the upper 90s late in the ninth inning.

His location was unlike it had been during any start this season, and there were only two pitches to spot. Crawford only threw one changeup on the night, relying on the fastball and slider to mow down the Bethune-Cookman lineup.

He threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of the 27 batters he faced and threw two of the first three pitches for strikes to 22 of the hitters.

In the dugout, Florida players were scattering. The tradition of not talking to the pitcher when he has a no-hitter continued as the Gators wanted to be anywhere but next to their starting pitcher.

"I don't know what everybody else was doing, but I was trying to stay as far away as possible," Preston Tucker said with a laugh. "I've never been a part of one before. That was something special."

The special part about it is the unlikelihood. When the Gators spent last June in Omaha playing for in the College World Series championship series, Crawford wasn't with the team. Florida sent him to pitch in the Northwoods League, a wood bat league where he could get more time on the mound.

He threw just 3.2 innings as a freshman. After returning for fall workouts, O'Sullivan came up with a few changes for Crawford. Throughout his life, the sophomore threw over the top and his fastball was straight because of it. The coaches elected to move his arm slot lower to create more movement on his fastball.

"He went off to the Northwoods League, never complained and came back much improved and open minded to some changes. He has worked extremely hard."

The move also created a better feel for his pitches. Crawford was wild before the change and didn't have confidence in his ability to locate. On Friday, he showcased that by painting his fastball on both corners. He threw the slider to get a called strike or bounced it on the plate to get Bethune-Cookman hitters swings over the top of it.

Whatever Crawford wanted to do or throw, it worked.

O'Sullivan estimated calling ten pitches in the game, and junior All-American catcher Mike Zunino called the rest, including everything from the seventh inning on.

That included the ninth inning, where Crawford had a scare. Nine-hole hitter Carlos Delgado came to the plate with two outs and the entire crowd standing on its feet. Delgado lined a 3-2 fastball to second base, where Florida second baseman Casey Turgeon jumped, extended fully and made the play.

After that, it was a mob at the mound, as Crawford completed the seventh no-hitter in school history.

"I was scared for a second that he would get a hit, but Casey jumped up and got it," Crawford said.

"I guess the stars just aligned for me."

Turgeon also gave the Florida offense its boost. Bethune-Cookman went to the bullpen brought in Bryan Rivera after a strong outing from Rayan Gonzalez. Turgeon greeted Rivera's first pitch with an opposite field blast to give the Gators the 4-0 lead that would hold.

Bethune-Cookman left fielder Josh Johnson was playing in shallow left field to take away a single since Turgeon dropped one in front of him in the previous at-bat. Instead, Turgeon sent him sprinting to the fence to watch the ball go into the crowd.

"For anybody on their team to go opposite field like that, it's impressive," Bethune-Cookman head coach Jason Beverlin said. "For him to do it, it's very impressive. That's as good as he's going to hit a ball. There's no doubt. If he hit it pull-side—maybe. Opposite field? That's impressive."

Turgeon is used to people being surprised at his power, despite it being his first home run since March 18 against Vanderbilt.

"Usually when I hit a ball well, people get surprised because I'm so small," said Turgeon, with a shrug of his shoulders.

The Gators will return to action on Saturday at 7 p.m. against Georgia Tech. Florida will send junior right-hander Hudson Randall to the mound against the Yellow Jackets' ace Buck Farmer.

"For this team, it's a great way to start a Regional. It's a special night. It's a night that everyone can enjoy."

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