GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators got mad, and that got Georgia Tech beat.
The Gators scored three runs in the fourth inning -- including one on Mike Zunino’s solo home run to left center field -- after a controversial end to the third inning to beat the Yellow Jackets 6-2 in a winners’ bracket game in the Gainesville Regional on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium. The top-seeded Gators will play on Sunday evening against the winner of Sunday’s afternoon’s Georgia Tech-College of Charleston elimination game.
What sparked UF’s offense in the top of the fourth was a debate of how the third inning actually ended. Georgia Tech had runners on first and second with two out, and starting pitcher Hudson Randall appeared to strike out first baseman Jake Davies after Zunino caught a foul tip. As the Gators left the field, however, Davies argued that the ball had actually hit the ground before Zunino caught it.
The umpires gathered in front of home plate to discuss the play while the grounds crew dragged the infield and Georgia Tech took the field. After a huddle that lasted for nearly five minutes, home plate umpire Mike Morris ruled that the ball had hit the ground before Zunino caught it and sent the Yellow Jackets back to the dugout and called the Gators back onto the field.
Zunino had vehemently argued his case from the dugout and was visibly upset when the Gators re-took the field. Randall eventually struck out Davies to end the inning -- again. Davies took the field to a chorus of boos, which only got louder when he tipped his cap as he got close to first base.
"You'd like to get it quicker, but the key is on getting the call right is you get the call right," said NCAA spokesman Dick Runchey. "It doesn't look good because you had a team off the field and the whole deal. But the key is did the ball did hit the bat and did the ball hit the ground; that's a sound thing. Everyone heard it, but you can't see it. As an umpire, you've got to hear it. Two of the umpires had it that the ball hit the dirt. Second and third, and they explained it to both coaches."
Zunino led off the top of the fourth inning and hammered an 0-1 pitch past the light pole in left-center field to put the Gators ahead 2-1.
"Hudson, after that whole controversy happened came out and did what he had to do and made a good pitch and was able to get the out, and I just wanted to carry over momentum," Zunino said. "I was able to get a pitch I could handle and I tried to put a good swing on it."
The pitch was a fastball that Georgia Tech starter Buck Farmer left up in the zone. He said he wasn’t as sharp as he was earlier in the game because of the long delay at the end of the third.
"Coming back in and sitting back down after I had kind of cooled down already and took another five, 10 minutes to sit in the dugout for Jake to complete his at-bat, really just kind of put me in a bad position," Farmer said. "I came out next inning and made a bad pitch, and Zunino make me pay for it."
UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said there was naturally a lot of confusion in the dugout during the umpires’ discussion. When the Gators got back to the dugout the second time, however, they were fired up -- and Zunino’s homer got them even more excited.
"It certainly got the crowd into it, and it was a big emotional lift for us," O’Sullivan said. "Mike’s home run was a big emotional lift for our team."
Justin Shafer added a run-scoring single to score Daniel Pigott, who reached base by getting hit by a pitch, and Vikash Ramjit drove in Shafer with a sacrifice fly to left field, later in the inning to give Florida a 4-1 lead.
There was still more controversy to come, though. Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall got ejected in the fifth inning while arguing with second base umpire Chris Coskey that he called time too quickly after Nolan Fontana’s slide into second base that upended Thomas Smith.
"Their player thought he was out and was leaving the base when time was called," Hall said in a statement. "I felt he (Coskey) bailed the runner out by calling time, and I told him he should not have done that."
In the seventh Fontana and Georgia Tech catcher Zane Evans exchanged words after Tucker got thrown out at home plate to end the inning and Fontana kicked Evans’ mask after the play was done.
"It kind of just bothered me a little bit," Evans said. "I don’t think there was any reason for him to kick my mask. It was a clean play."
UF added two more runs in the ninth on Preston Tucker’s home run over the scoreboard in right-center field. It was his school-record 10th post-season homer.