UF's Crawford throws no-hitter

Florida pitcher Jonathon Crawford throws during the NCAA Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium on Friday. Crawford threw a complete game no-hitter to power the Gators to an opening game 4-0 victory in the regionals over Bethune-Cookman.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 9:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 9:33 p.m.

It was about a year ago that Jonathon Crawford experienced one of those lows that can either motivate or decimate an athlete. While his teammates left for Omaha, he was left home.

“It's not a good feeling,” said the sophomore pitcher, “when you're left behind and your team is going to Omaha.”

On Friday night, Crawford had a different feeling, one that few pitchers get to experience. He threw a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman in a 4-0 Florida win, as the Gators opened up NCAA regional play with a bang.

Crawford's performance was a testament to how much he has improved since being no factor last season. It was his sixth win of the year, a 98-pitch gem that had McKethan Stadium rocking in the ninth inning.

In that ninth inning, Crawford's fastball was timed at 98 mph.

“I was really pumped up,” Crawford said. “The thought that I could possibly get a no-hitter, I was jacked.”

It was the first no-hitter for Florida since a combined no-no in 1993 and the first no-hitter for UF in the postseason since John Burke did it in 1991 against Furman.

But it didn't come without drama.

While Crawford faced the minimum, there were a pair of hard line-outs to the outfield and a slew of sparkling plays in the infield, especially a leaping grab and throw by third baseman Josh Tobias on a high chopper in the fifth.

“They shrink the field on you on defense,” said Bethune coach Jason Beverlin.

Then came the ninth inning. After a pair of groundouts, catcher Mike Zunino came out to the mound to tell Crawford to stay focused and in the moment. With .104 hitter Carlos Delgado at the plate, the no-hitter seemed like a sure thing.

But Delgado smoked a line drive over the head of second baseman Casey Turgeon, who skied into the air to make the grab.

“I jumped as high as I could,” said the 5-foot-9 Turgeon.

Turgeon was also the offensive hero of the night, singling home a run in the second and belting an opposite-field, three-run homer in the fifth.

“When any of their hitters hits one out the opposite way it's impressive,” said Beverlin. “When he does it, it's really impressive. I don't think anybody in here expected that.”

Said Turgeon, “Usually when I hit the ball good, people get surprised.”

For all of Turgeon's heroics, the night belonged to Crawford. He threw 20 first-pitch strikes and threw two of the first three pitches for strikes to 22 of the 27 batters he faced.

Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he felt good about Crawford's start when assistant coach Brad Weitzel told him it was the best bullpen he'd seen from Crawford.

“He said he might throw a no-hitter,” O'Sullivan said.

It was the first no-hitter for Crawford in his life and the first O'Sullivan had been around.

“This is a night that doesn't come around very often,” O'Sullivan said. “I probably only called 10 pitches the whole night. I think Mike Zunino deserves a lot of credit. No-hitters don't happen without the catcher calling a great game. I told Mike after the seventh inning the game was his and Jonathon's.

"For me this is what coaching is all about, when you help a player reach his potential. This was a night he'll never forget and it was a night I'll never forget.”

Crawford struck out five in the game and said he started to feel the nerves after a perfect eighth inning.

“I was feeling excited and nervous,” he said. “I guess the stars aligned for me. The last batter, I was throwing as hard as I could. It was crazy. It was a lot of fun.”

Turgeon's single in the second scored Daniel Pigott from third and his fourth homer of the year came against Brian Rivera on his first pitch in relief of starter Rayan Gonzalez. Gonzalez kept pitching out of trouble but a 13-pitch at-bat by Tobias in the fourth (it ended with a fly out after nine foul balls) elevated Gonzalez's pitch count and knocked him out of the game.

“The result of the at-bat was good for us but the at-bat was good for them,” said Beverlin. “It was a great team at-bat.”

Rivera said he was looking to get a first-pitch strike, but left it “over the middle of the plate.”

“Off his bat, I thought it was gone,” O'Sullivan said. “People underestimate his power.”

While O'Sullivan said he wanted his team to enjoy a special night, the Gators have to refocus for a huge game tonight at 7 when they face Georgia Tech, which has won six games in a row after beating College of Charleston in Friday's other Gainesville regional game.

“They are one of the hottest teams in the country right now,” O'Sullivan said.

Bethune has to bounce back to play College of Charleston in a 1 p.m. elimination game today.

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