Crawford evens the series with shutout

The walk from the bullpen to the Florida dugout before Saturday's game had a different feel for junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford. For the first time this season, it was filled with confidence. There was a quicker tempo to his steps, but the difference was in his thoughts. Crawford knew he was going to dominate against Ole Miss. And for the first time this season, he did.

The Florida offense broke out for seven runs, but even if they would've scored just once, Crawford would've been good enough. The junior right-hander didn't allow a run over nine innings, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out eight hitters on 106 pitches.

Crawford went to a three-ball count on just four of the 31 batters he faced and allowed just three base runners to reach second base. Ole Miss hit the ball to the outfield just six times.

"I felt really good during my bullpen today," Jonathon Crawford said. "The focus was there, everything was in rhythm. It just felt good."

Crawford spent time in the bullpen during the week with Florida head coach and pitching coach Kevin O'Sullivan, trying to find the rhythm that was missing. He just wasn't feeling as sharp or comfortable on the mound as he did last season, when he was a crucial part of the Florida pitching staff.

He was expected to be the ace of the staff this season, but through his first six starts, Crawford had a 5.67 ERA, walking 11 batters and hitting seven through 33.1 innings of work. He was always working from behind and getting hit because of it.

Saturday was different.

He got ahead in the count and finished hitters off with his slider. He didn't throw the changeup as much as other starts this year, focusing in on his best two pitches. The velocity was also a few ticks higher, hitting 93-94 mph on the scoreboard during the ninth inning.

"I felt really comfortable," Crawford said. "I had my fastball and my slider going. It was a relief to get that. I had a lot of confidence in my stuff today, so I just went out and attacked."

But was the start a sign of things to come? That's a question even Crawford wants to know the answer to. He felt like it at times on the mound Saturday, and said he felt "really close to" the way he was at the end of 2012, when he threw a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman in the Gainesville Regional.

While Crawford was holding Ole Miss down at the plate, the Florida offense didn't waste time getting on the board -- and it came from an unlikely source. With one out in the second inning, Connor Mitchell grounded a single into right field to give the Gators the lead. Designated hitter Mike Fahrman followed with a two-out run double down the right field line.

Fahrman and Mitchell came into the 2013 season with 11 combined career at-bats, and they delivered back-to-back important at-bats in Southeastern Conference play.

"Our offensive struggles have obviously been evident," O'Sullivan said. "We just have to get contributions from everybody. Whoever it is. We have to get on base. We have to battle."

Harrison Bader tacked on with his first career home run to start the sixth inning, dropping one into the left field bleachers.

"Just trying to put a good swing on it," Bader said. "I'm not a home run hitter by any means. Just trying to give some momentum to the dugout."

With the offense continuing to tack on runs throughout the game, Crawford did the rest. It was exactly what the Gators needed, knotting the series at one game each. Sunday's series finale will start at 1 p.m. Florida has yet to announce a starter, and Ole Miss will send sophomore right-hander Chris Ellis (1-1, 9.00) to the mound.

The hope for Florida is to carry some of the momentum into Sunday.

"This was probably one of our more complete games," O'Sullivan said.

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