Whitson, Rhodes combine for shutout win over FGCU

Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson threw five innings of scoreless ball on just one hit during the Gators' 4-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.

Brad McClenny / Staff photographer / FILE
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:54 p.m.

With his team struggling to score runs, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan made sure the Gators squeezed the most out of their first opportunity Saturday night.

UF (6-5) scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on back-to-back squeeze bunts to break a scoreless tie, and starter Karsten Whitson and reliever Aaron Rhodes combined on a three-hit shutout as No. 23 Florida picked up a much-needed 4-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast (6-6) before a McKethan Stadium crowd of 4,157.

“We tried to do something different,” O'Sullivan said. “It was nice to get on the board and to get a lead to be honest with you. It was a different feeling.”

Whitson, a redshirt junior who missed all of last year following surgery, turned in his best performance of the season, throwing five innings of scoreless, one-hit ball before giving way to Rhodes.

The sophomore finished it off with four innings of shutout relief while striking out four batters, both career-high marks, to earn his first career save.

“It was good to get Karsten through five,” O'Sullivan said.”It was his longest outing of the year. I think his confidence level is continuing to grow, and I think he feels better each time out.

“Aaron Rhodes was really good. I think he threw 41 strikes out of 54 pitches, and he ran it on both sides of the plate. It was a really good outing for both of them.”

The Gators had scored just one run in the last 26 innings heading into the home half of the fourth, but freshman Pete Alonso got things started with a lead-off single to left field. Junior Braden Mattson drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch from FGCU left-handed starter Nick Deckert to put the first two men on.

After junior Josh Tobias, who singled in his first at-bat for his first hit of the season, moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt, freshman Ryan Larson and junior Zack Powers both drove in runs by pushing bunts between the mound and first base, with Larson beating his out.

UF added a pair of two-out insurance runs in the seventh.

Sophomore Richie Martin singled, extending his team-leading hitting streak to 15 games, then stole second. Juniors Casey Turgeon and Taylor Gushue followed with back-to-back, RBI doubles to make it 4-0 and end the night for Decker (1-2), who took the loss.

“We kind of just went up there with an open mind,” said Turgeon, who joined Tobias and Alonso in having two hits to pace a 10-hit Gator attack. “It was definitely a better night hitting, and it was good to see.”

The Eagles put two men on base in each of the first two innings off Whitson (1-1), who earned the win, but he escaped unscathed both times with big pitches, highlighted by getting a double play with runners on the corners and only one out in the top of the first.

Whitson finished strong, retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced.

“It felt good,” said Whitson. “It was good to put up some zeroes there consecutively, and it was a big win for us tonight. We needed it, and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

The Gators close out the four-day, round-robin tournament against Illinois on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Illini (5-4) moved to 3-0 in the tourney by pounding FGCU in Saturday's first game, winning 9-1.

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