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Strong defensive effort helps No. 1 Gators advance

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Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 1:40 am | Updated: 3:06 am, Tue Jun 5, 2012.

With Jonathon Crawford’s no-hit bid on the line, Carlos Delgado lined a 3-2 pitch right at Casey Turgeon.

Turgeon jumped in the air and snagged the ball, securing the final out in Crawford’s no-hitter.

His acrobatic play at second base earned Turgeon the second spot on the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 list.

“If it was hit on the ground, I would’ve sat in front of it — I would have worn it for him,” Turgeon said.

Despite a no-hitter Friday and a 15-run outburst Sunday, the Gators’ defensive effort in the NCAA Gainesville Regional received its fair share of recognition.

Turgeon, Nolan Fontana, Josh Tobias, Daniel Pigott and Justin Shafer all made successful diving plays for Florida during the first round of postseason play last weekend.

An errant throw home by Shafer on Saturday marked Florida’s lone error.

“They shrink the field on you on defense,” Bethune-Cookman coach Jason Beverlin said Friday. “So, the balls we did hit hard, with their defense as good as it is, it just shrinks all the gaps and the amount of space to get hits.”

Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said UF played “tremendous infield defense.”

During the weekend, the Gators pitching staff relied heavily on ground balls. Thirty of the 81 outs Florida recorded against Bethune-Cookman and Georgia Tech rolled through the infield grass, including 13 in Crawford’s no-hitter Friday.

“Usually, when you pitch to contact, balls find your defenders,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

Nolan Fontana, Turgeon and Josh Tobias fielded the majority of the grounders and combined for 24 assists.

Fontana ranks 46th in the Baseball America 500, and O’Sullivan has referred to Turgeon as a “natural” on the field.

However, O’Sullivan came away from the weekend most impressed with Tobias’ defensive effort at third base.

“Josh Tobias has done a really, really good job,” O’Sullivan said. “His first step on a couple of balls to his left this weekend were really, really good.

“He saved some balls that maybe earlier in the year may have gotten by him, but he’s kind of really solidified that infield.”

Florida’s glove work in the field helped account for a productive weekend from its starting rotation.

Crawford, Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson each had effective outings and earned victories during the weekend.

They gave up a combined two earned runs on 11 hits with two walks and 14 strikeouts in 19.2 total innings.

Had it not been for Florida’s 14-run lead against Georgia Tech after the fifth inning, Johnson may have pitched more than the five frames he logged Sunday.

“It’s unbelievably easy to pitch (with good defense),” Johnson said. “You almost get mad at yourself when you throw a ball.”

During the regular season, the Gators had one of the strongest defensive units in the Southeastern Conference.

Florida registered the second-best fielding percentage in the SEC (.978) and committed the third-fewest errors (52).

If the Gators’ on-field performance during the NCAA Regional continues in the Super Regional, then a return trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., this season seems likely.

“Everybody talks about our pitching, everybody talks about our offense and our power, but our defense is really good,” O’Sullivan said.

Contact Joe Morgan at joemorgan@alligator.org.

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