Gators sweep Tide in baseball

Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.

In the first two games of the weekend series with Alabama, Florida’s booming bats were the story. On Sunday, it was the big arm of freshman Karsten Whitson and the clutch performance of the Gators’ bullpen.

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The University of Florida's starting pitcher Karsten Whitson throws during a game against the University of Alabama at McKethan Stadium, in Gainesville, on Sunday. The Gators won the game 2-1 over the Crimson Tide to sweep the weekend series.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer

Going deeper into a game than he has in his brief UF career, Whitson (5-0) pitched three-hit ball and struck out seven in 6.2 innings to lead the No. 5 Gators to a 2-1 victory over the Tide and give Florida (31-10 overall, 14-4 in the SEC) a sweep of the weekend series at McKethan Stadium.

“I wanted to get ahead and keep my two-seamer (fastball) low. I stuck with that plan,” said Whitson, whose previous longest stint had been 5.1 innings. “I tried to stay ahead of the hitters and it worked. It was great for me (to pitch into the seventh inning).

“I ran out and said to (second baseman) Josh (Adams), ‘Hey, am I really still out here?’ It was just keeping the ball low, and my teammates made good plays behind me.

“My fastball had a lot of good movement. That’s why I was able to get into the seventh, and my change-up was working. Keeping guys off balance and staying ahead is going to help me in the future go longer in games.”

The bullpen nailed down the win, with closer Nick Maronde picking up the save by getting pinch-hitter Brett Whitaker to hit into a game-ending double play in the ninth with the potential tying and go-ahead runners on base.

Whitson was in command from the start, holding the Tide (25-18 overall and 8-10 in the SEC) hitless through the first four innings.

Even when Whitson got in trouble in the seventh inning, putting the tying runs on base with no outs after hitting Jared Reaves and surrendering a double to Austen Smith, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan gave him a chance to work out of trouble.

Whitson responded, striking out the next two batters. O’Sullivan then turned the game over to the bullpen with the Gators still holding a 2-0 lead.

“It’s the best he’s thrown all year,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s been working awfully hard between his starts.

“We’ve been waiting for an outing like this, and I know he has been, too. He had no walks, his fastball was firm, he pitched to both sides of the plate and he threw some really quality sliders and change-ups. It’s the best he’s thrown all year.”

Shortstop Nolan Fontana, who drove in both UF runs, said the Gators will be looking for similar performances from Whitson down the stretch.

“He did a great job today,” Fontana said. “He emphasized getting ahead of the hitters and he did that really well. He was spotting up. He had everything working. He was throwing whatever he wanted to.

“It’s what we expect from him. He’s going to be a big part of it.”

Whitson left with the slim 2-0 lead in the seventh, and the bullpen made it hold up.

Steven Rodriguez gave up an RBI-single to Brett Booth, but then struck out pinch-hitter Allen Dye to get out of the inning.

When Anthony DeSclafani got in trouble in the ninth, giving up back-to-back singles with two outs, Maronde, a left-hander, came to the rescue.

“Karsten pitched a hell of a game and we had to come in and pick him up,” Maronde said. “I had to come in and throw strikes. I was fortunate enough to get a double play (on a fastball).”

After scoring 16 runs in the first two games of the series, the Gators did just enough offensively to give the pitchers a chance to win the game.

Fontana had three hits and drove in UF’s only runs.

“I’m seeing the ball well and I got a lot of hitter’s counts,” he said. “I tried to stay aggressive and it worked out for me today.”

Fontana doubled in a run in the third inning and had an RBI-single in the fifth. It was his second three-hit game of the weekend.

“He’s been swinging the bat really good,” O’Sullivan said. “He had a great weekend. Whether he hits first or second in the lineup, he’s a catalyst for us at the top.”

Overall for the Gators, it was an overwhelming performance in the three-game sweep.

UF gave up only three runs in 27 innings (a 1.00 ERA), while producing 18 runs and hitting .347.

“We played loose,” O’Sullivan said. “Getting home was the big thing. It was time for us to get home.”

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