Florida takes Game 1 from Miss State in Super Regionals

The Florida Gators (49-16) kicked off the 2011 Super Regionals with an 11-1 romp of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (37-24) Friday in front of 2,446 at McKethan Stadium.

Florida starter RHP Hudson Randall (10-3) pitched an outstanding eight complete innings allowing one earned run on six hits, while walking two and striking out a season-high eight batters. Randall picked up his tenth win and threw 115 pitches; both season highs for Gator pitching. Mississippi State southpaw Evan Mitchell was the losing pitcher on record, giving up seven earned runs on five hits, walking three and striking out two in 2IP.

The Gators struck early and often, opening their five consecutive scoring innings in the bottom of the first. With the bases loaded, SEC Player of the Year and Johnny Bench Award Finalist Mike Zunino singled into left center field scoring both Nolan Fontana and Bryson Smith for an early 2-0 lead. With one out, Tyler Thompson doubled into the gap in center field, sending Preston Tucker and Zunino across the plate to extend the Gators lead to 4-0.

By the end of the first two frames, Randall had dealt five of his eight strikeouts and allowed three of six hits. In the bottom of the second, Cody Dent was issued a one-out walk followed by a two-run shot over the right field wall by Tucker, his fifth of the season for a 6-0 Florida lead. It was the first home run in 48 innings pitched given up by Mitchell, which brought the Florida lead to 6-0.

Zunino continued to extend the Florida lead in the third with a first-pitch leadoff home run just over the wall in left field, his 17th of the season and third RBI of the game. Mitchell was replaced by Devin Jones on the mound for the Bulldogs allowing a single to Josh Adams before forcing Thompson to fly out to left field. Daniel Pigott reached on a fielder’s choice putting Adams out at second and Vickash Ramjit grounded out to end the frame with the Gators ahead 7-0.

Through four innings, Randall had thrown 60 pitches, 47 of them strikes as his shutout continued. The Gators’ scoring streak was alive in the bottom of the stanza when Dent was issued the second walk of the contest and advanced into scoring position after Fontana grounded out.  Smith plated Dent with a single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw.  Tucker fouled out, Zunino was walked, and Adams singled through the left side sending Smith home for the ninth Gator run. The inning ended with Adams out at second after another fielder’s choice hit by Thompson.

Randall issued both of his walks in the top of the fifth, but pitched himself out of the jam ending the frame with both walked base runners left. With Kendall Graveman in to pitch for Jones, Pigott reached second on a two-base fielding error by Ogden and moved to third on a ground out by Ramjit. Dent’s first sacrifice fly of the season drove in Pigott for a 10-0 Florida lead.

Randall’s shutout ended in the sixth as Jarrod Parks, who entered the game as the SEC leader in batting average (.383), led off with a base hit up the middle and advanced to third after a double by Nick Vickerson into left field. Jaron Shepherd put Mississippi State on board with a groundout to second that scored Parks. Randall retired the next two Bulldog batters leaving Vickerson stranded to end the half inning 10-1 in favor of the Gators. Florida was scoreless for the first inning of the contest after Smith led off with a single, but was left at third as Graveman forced Tucker, Zunino and Adams into groundouts to end the sixth.

With Florida at a comfortable 10-1 lead, Randall headed back out to the mound in the seventh and retired the Bulldog side in order. The afternoon’s scoring ended in the bottom of the inning as Pigott delivered a one-out homerun into the left field bleachers. With two outs, Dent singled through the right side and moved to second on a wild pitch but was left on base when Fontana struck out to close the frame.

Randall’s afternoon ended after setting down all three Bulldog hitters in the eighth, improving his career NCAA Tournament strikeout-to-walk ratio to 29-to-6. Chris Stratton was on the mound for Mississippi State in Florida’s half of the eighth. Smith reached on a throwing error by Ogden (his second error of the game) and advanced to second on a passed ball. Tucker was issued a walk, but Zunino and Adams struck out back-to-back and Thompson popped up to second to end the inning and the Florida at-bats of the day.

Keenan Kish replaced Randall in the ninth, and struck out Shepherd, allowed a single by Frazier, struck out Brownlee, and forced Ogden to pop up to Fontana at short stop to end the game 11-1.

Game two of the best-of-three series takes place Saturday at noon at McKethan Stadium. Florida RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0) and Mississippi State LHP Nick Routt (3-3) are the expected starters. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan sounded optimistic Thursday DH/P Brian Johnson (concussion) could play this weekend, but still lists 1b/P Austin Maddox (ankle) as day-to-day.

Dory LeBlanc is a contributing author at GatorsFirst.com and BourbonMeyer.com.  For more thoughts on the Florida  Gators (and more) follow Dory LeBlanc on Twitter (@Dory_LeBlanc).

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