Top-ranked Florida baseball blanks No. 19 UCF
Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 12:04 a.m.
What started out as a potential rainout turned into a perfect storm for the nation's No. 1 baseball team Wednesday night.
Making his first career start, sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford pitched five shutout innings, senior Preston Tucker tied Brad Wilkerson's school record for career RBIs (214) with a home run, and the Florida Gators rolled to an 8-0 victory over the No. 19 Central Florida Knights at McKethan Stadium.
The victory improves the Gators to 4-1 on the young season, while UCF drops its first game after opening with three consecutive victories.
Anyone who saw Crawford get knocked around so badly out of the bullpen in a loss to Cal-State Fullerton on Sunday would not have recognized him. In that appearance, Crawford could not get anybody out. In one-third of an inning, he gave up five hits, four earned runs and walked a batter.
As a result, he came into Wednesday night's game with an earned-run average of 108.00. Yes, 108.00.
But he was practically unhittable against the Knights — and very much in control. He pitched four hitless innings before giving up an infield single on a weak grounder in the fifth.
“The people in our locker room know the jumps that (Crawford) has made,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “He certainly earned his start. I'm really pleased for him.
“I told him after the game on Sunday that I thought he threw the ball well. It was unfortunate some balls found the hole. I told him he was going to get the ball again Wednesday. If tonight hadn't gone as well as he had wanted, he would have gone right back out there this weekend.
“He's got too good of an arm, he's too talented. I've seen it enough in practice, in the fall and the spring, to believe and know it's going to show up.”
It showed up big Wednesday night. Crawford was in control of all three of his pitches, especially an improved slider, and wasn't hit hard until he gave up a single to left in the fifth.
In five innings of work, Crawford gave up only two hits, struck out four and walked three.
His performance did not surprise anyone in the UF dugout.
“He's got some of the best stuff I've ever seen,” Tucker said.
And it appears he's starting to gain command of it.
“I just tried to throw strikes, keep the ball low and get ahead of the hitters,” Crawford said. “It wasn't too hard (coming off Sunday's game). I just didn't have much luck. They hit one ball hard off me.
“(Wednesday's performance) feels great. It gives me a lot of confidence to go into the next outing.”
The Gator lineup did its part to take the pressure off Crawford early. UF scored single runs in the first and second innings, then put up a three-run spot in the third to give Crawford a 5-0 cushion.
After the fifth, O'Sullivan went to the bullpen, and Daniel Gibson, Bobby Poyner and Ryan Harris preserved the shutout.
“The bullpen was really good,” O'Sullivan said. “It was good to get Daniel out there, great to get Bobby Poyner out there on back-to-back nights, and good to finally get Harris out there.
“They battled. They'll get better as they go along.”
The Gators had 10 hits, but perhaps the biggest blow of the night came when Tucker led off the fifth with a line-drive homer to right on the first pitch to tie Wilkerson with 214 career RBIs.
“It was just a fastball down in the zone,” Tucker said. “I barrelled up and hit it about as good as I could.”
Tucker also had the game's defensive highlight — a fully extended diving catch in right in the seventh inning.
“At first I didn't think I was going to get to that ball,” he said. “It hung up there just enough where I realized I could get to it. It just worked out pretty well.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.