Johnson's nine Ks power Florida
Top-ranked Gators down Vanderbilit, extend win streak to 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Brian Johnson (3-0) allowed two singles over six shutout innings and matched his career high of nine strikeouts to lead No. 1 Florida (18-1, 2-0 SEC) past Vanderbilt (7-12, 0-2 SEC) 5-1 on Saturday afternoon in front of 4,364 fans at McKethan Stadium.
The Gators’ extended their winning streak to 16 and secured their third consecutive regular-season series triumph against the Commodores. Holding a 1-0 lead in the fifth, the Gators used a two-run single by Daniel Pigott and a two-run homer by Preston Tucker to seize control of the contest.
“Honestly, I thought it was the best Brian [Johnson] has pitched in a long time,” UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He threw all four of his pitches for strikes and he moved the ball back and forth. He didn’t miss very many spots, if any. I thought that Brian was outstanding and he needed to be because their guy was really good for the first part of the ballgame.”
“We have all-stars on the mound. If we pitch and play defense, we’ve got a chance. When our starting pitching hasn’t been great, our bullpen has stepped up. When we’ve been a little light in the bullpen because we’ve used a guy or two the day before, our starters have picked us up. So, it’s a full team effort and it’s a full staff effort.”
Johnson retired the first 11 Commodore hitters, five by strikeouts, before Mike Yastrzemski singled through the left side of the infield with two down in the fourth. The left-hander equaled his season high of six Ks with an inning-ending punch-out of Conrad Gregor.
Mike Zunino (2-for-3) and Johnson were each plunked with one down in the fourth, the first time this season that either player had been hit. A grounder by Taylor Gushue moved the runners into scoring position and a wild pitch by Drew VerHagen (2-2) enabled Zunino to come across with the game’s opening run. The righty had Justin Shafer line out to left field to keep the score at 1-0 and strand Johnson at third base.
Johnson recorded the first two outs of the fifth before issuing a walk to Drew Fann. However, the southpaw threw out Riley Reynolds as he tried to bunt for a single to close the frame.
Florida increased its lead to 5-0 in the fifth on a two-run single by Pigott and a two-run homer by Tucker. Casey Turgeon reached on a fielding error by Anthony Gomez to start the inning and Josh Tobias earned a free pass before Nolan Fontana laid down a sacrifice bunt to push his teammates over. Sam Selman replaced VerHagen (4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER) and Pigott boosted the Gators’ advantage to three runs with a two-run single into left field. Tucker delivered his seventh homer of the year to right field, just beyond the reach of Yastrzemski, for a five-run margin.
“Well, judging from my previous swings, I wasn’t seeing the ball too well off of him [Selman],” Tucker admitted. “I just tried to grind out the at-bat, I knew that the pitch wasn’t a great one, but I didn’t want to strike out again. I just put the barrel on the ball and good things happen when you do that. I knew the ball was really low, it started out in the zone, so I just decided to swing at it.”
Johnson limited Vanderbilt to two singles over six scoreless frames before Daniel Gibson took over on the mound. Junior Connor Harrell had a two-out, ground-rule double that bounced over the center field fence and Gibson had Fann ground out to complete the inning.
“I was working my fastball in and out and the key thing is throwing your off-speed pitches for strikes,” Johnson said. “My change-up was fading away, my fastball was there and I was locating. That’s what I needed to do. I threw 88 pitches today and my arm felt fresh throughout the game, so I’m really happy to see that.”
Tucker led off the bottom of the stanza with a walk and stole second with one down, prompting a pitching change. Adam Ravenelle replaced Selman (2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R) and surrendered a pinch-hit single into right center to Austin Maddox, giving the Gators runners on the corners. Ravenelle struck out Gushue and Shafer to get out of the jam.
The Commodores got on the board in the eighth on a two-out RBI single up the middle by Gomez (2-for-4). Gibson set down the first two hitters and Jack Lupo legged out an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Gomez narrowed the gap to 5-1 with a base-hit into center field, ending UF’s bullpen scoreless streak at 31.2 innings dating back to March 4 at Miami (Fla.). It was also the first run permitted by Gibson this season after 10.1 scoreless innings.
Turgeon walked to open the Gator eighth and redshirt sophomore Keenan Kolinsky replaced Ravenelle (0.2 IP, 1 H). Cody Dent moved Turgeon over with a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt and Kolinsky jammed Fontana on a foul pop-up behind home plate and had Pigott fly out to left field.
Chris Harvey had a one-out single in the ninth, ending the afternoon for Gibson (2.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R). Greg Larson struck out Harrell and had pinch hitter Connor Castellano ground out to end the contest. The Gators held a 7-6 edge in hits.