UF baseball rolls Rattlers for 10th straight win

Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 11:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 11:32 p.m.

Wednesday night's game between top-ranked Florida and visiting Florida A&M didn't start out as expected, but in the end, there were no surprises.

The top-ranked Gators spotted the Rattlers an early 2-1 lead before finding their stroke and scoring 14 unanswered runs to take a 15-2 win before a McKethan Stadium crowd of 2,673.

The win, Florida's 10th in a row, improved UF to 12-1, while Florida A&M, which lost its 11th straight, fell to 1-12.

“You've got to credit Florida A&M early-on,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “They battled. But I was really pleased with the way our offense responded.”

The Gators scored in every inning but the second and the eighth, capped by putting up back-to-back four-run innings in the sixth and seventh to blow the game open.

Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer led the way, knocking in a career-high six runs despite collecting just one hit, a two-run, seventh-inning double. Prior to that, he had four RBIs on three sacrifice flies, and he closed the game out in grand style by coming in to pitch the ninth and striking out the side.

Shafer actually knocked in two runs with his last sac fly, a ringing shot to right-center that A&M center fielder Scott Sheplak made a diving catch of to rob him of a hit. By the time Sheplak could get back up and make a throw home, both Cody Dent, who was on third, and Nolan Fontana, who was on second, were able to score.

At that point, Shafer was 0 for 1 officially, but he did break into the hit column in his last at-bat in the seventh with a ringing double to left that plated UF's final two runs of the night

“Everyone else in front of me just did a great job of getting on base, so I didn't really have to do much except just put it into play somehow and score everybody,” Shafer said. “I love pitching just like I love hitting, so whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do it.”

“He needed to get an inning there at the end, and he threw a really clean ninth inning,” O'Sullivan said. “He's a baseball player. He gets it; he competes. It was a great night for him.”

Fontana, who had a single to extend his hitting streak to eight games, felt the Gators' focus was right where it needed to be after winning back-to-back midweek games by a combined 31-3 margin.

“We were swinging the bats well and trying to get some momentum going into this weekend,” he said. “Sully was saying that these could be trap games for us and we've got to stay up and respect everybody you play because anyone can beat you on any given day.”

Senior All-America Preston Tucker moved up the all-time charts with his RBI double in the fifth, collecting his 274th career hit to move into the No. 4 all-time spot at UF while also moving into a tie with former Gator Jeff Corsaletti for third in career doubles with 56.

Senior Greg Larson (2-0), the second of five UF pitchers, picked up the win while A&M starter David Duncan (1-3) took the loss.

In related news, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission announced on Wednesday that UF junior All-America catcher Mike Zunino has been named to the Watch List for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award presented by BaseballSavings.com.

Zunino, who was a finalist for the award last year, leads the Gators in an assortment of offensive categories: batting average (.465), slugging percentage (.930), on-base percentage (.520), RBI (15), runs (14) and doubles (five). However, he had his 15-game hitting streak come to an end against the Rattlers, going 0-for-3 before being taken out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth.

Next up, UF hosts Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series beginning Friday night at 7.

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