Zunino, UF win series vs. MSU

Florida's Mike Zunino, right, slides into second base around the tag of Mississippi State's Matthew Britton during a game at McKethan Stadium on Sunday. Florida won 2-1 to clinch the series victory.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 4:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 4:37 p.m.

This time around, three hits were all the Gators needed.

With sixth-ranked Florida totaling just two hits through 8 1/3 innings on Sunday, Mike Zunino made the Gators' third hit of the game count. The junior catcher connected on a fastball for a no-doubter solo home run to left to give Florida a 2-1 win as the Gators took the rubber match of their weekend series with No. 25 Mississippi State in their final home regular-season game at McKethan Stadium.

“We were battling the whole day,” Zunino said. “It was nice to finally catch a break and push a run across there.”

The Bulldogs had evened the series on Saturday night, holding the Gators to just three singles in a 2-0 shutout win.

Three hits were also all Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) could manage on Sunday thanks to strong efforts out of the Gator bullpen by juniors Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox.

Maddox (3-2) celebrated his birthday in style, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings and picking up a win in his first appearance since dealing with tendinitis following an April 29 home loss to Arkansas.

After the game, the closer said he felt fully healthy and that “it felt good to get back on the mound again.”

Florida sophomore starter Karsten Whitson struggled with his control early on before exiting with the game tied 1-1 after 3 1/3 innings. He gave up five walks and plunked a batter, but also struck out four and got out of some difficult situations. One of his two hits surrendered was a solo homer by MSU sophomore Hunter Renfroe in the 3rd inning.

“There are some starts where you can't always locate how you want to,” Zunino said. “(Whitson) did a good job of battling and getting out of some tight spots, so I mean that's all we can ask from him.”

The Gators (38-14, 16-11 SEC) answered Renfroe's blast in the bottom of the inning, scratching across their first run to even the score when senior Preston Tucker drove in junior Vickash Ramjit on an RBI groundout.

Despite six combined hits over the past two games, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan was looking at the positives coming out of Sunday's win.

“We won two out of three against a really good Mississippi State team without Brian Johnson pitching on the weekend, without our best guys swinging the bat as well as we all know they're going to at some point,” O'Sullivan said. “A lot of guys made a lot of big pitches today with runners in scoring position, so that's what I'm looking at going forward.”

Zunino said the team's slump at the plate has been tough, but praised the bullpen for keeping the Gators in the game.

“Every time we go to them, they step up,” Zunino said. “We're lucky to have a bullpen like that.”

In the fifth inning, O'Sullivan found himself in a chess match with Mississippi State coach John Cohen.

With one out and a runner on second, Cohen brought in left-handed batter Phillip Casey as a pinch-hitter for the right-handed Wes Rea, prompting O'Sullivan to change pitchers.

Freshman left-hander Bobby Poyner took over for senior right-hander Greg Larson, before Cohen pinch-hit for his pinch-hitter, bringing in right-handed batter Daryl Norris for Casey. O'Sullivan countered by having Poyner intentionally walk Norris and then bringing in Rodriguez, who finally struck out MSU's Sam Frost to end the inning.

“(Poyner) gets a game ball for that intentional walk,” O'Sullivan quipped. “I couldn't help myself but laugh when I took him out. He was like ‘Really?' But it wasn't anticipated. … If they had stayed with the left-hander, Poyner was going to pitch to him.”

Florida next embarks on a two-week road trip that will include a Tuesday night stop at Samford (7:30 p.m. start), before finishing up the regular season with a three-game series at Auburn that starts Thursday, and continuing on to the SEC Tournament, which begins on May 22 in Hoover, Ala.

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