After two weeks of repeatedly stranding runners, No. 4 Florida exercised some frustrations Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Miss.
The Gators (25-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) demolished Mississippi State 18-0, as all nine starters recorded at least one hit and shortstop Nolan Fontana made a triumphant return.
Although UF still left nine runners on base, the Gators pounded the Bulldogs (21-10, 5-6 SEC) for 18 hits, including a monster grand slam by catcher Mike Zunino in an eight run second inning.
Zunino (3 for 5 with five RBIs) led off the frame with a single, joining Preston Tucker (March 23 versus Winthrop) as the second UF player this season with two hits in one inning.
The eight runs were the most Florida has plated in an inning this season, and gave lefty starter Brian Johnson all the support he would need to even the series.
“Anytime you get on the board on the road early, you feel good about your chances,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Johnson tossed six shutout innings, scattering six hits while pitching out of trouble all afternoon.
Florida’s bullpen combined for three scoreless innings, including two from freshman Daniel Gibson.
O’Sullivan praised Johnson’s effort, saying, “He gave our pen a chance to rest. We’ve got a lot of guys available for tomorrow.”
Fontana returned from his one-game absence, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs and showing no ill-affects from his head injury sustained against Central Florida last Tuesday.
The Gators scored two more runs in the third and one each in the fifth and six, before busting out another huge inning late in the game.
Already up 12-0, Florida put up a six spot in the seventh, including a pair of runs off a two-out single from Daniel Pigott (2 for 6, three RBIs).
“In the college game you cant sit on an 8-0 lead,” O’Sullivan said. “They have a good hitting team and we had to keep tacking on runs.”