Florida Gators: Hudson Randall

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – More proof of why the Florida baseball team is the favorite to win the College World series: The Gators had six more players drafted on Tuesday.

Shortstop Nolan Fontana and pitcher Steven Rodriguez were taken in the second round. Pitcher Austin Maddox was taken in the third round, and outfielder Preston Tucker and pitcher Hudson Randall were taken in the seventh round. Outfielder Daniel Pigott was taken in the ninth round.

Including the selections of catcher Mike Zunino (No. 3 overall) and pitcher Brian Johnson (No. 31 overall), the Gators have seen eight players drafted during the first 15 rounds. Rounds 16-40 will take place Wednesday.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s Brian Johnson obviously has the potential to become a Major League player. It just isn’t clear at which position.

The Boston Red Sox selected the left-handed pitcher with the 31st and final pick in the first round of the MLB draft on Monday night. Johnson’s pitching skills got him drafted that high, but his offensive skills make him an intriguing prospect as a position player.

ESPN MLB draft expert Kiley McDaniel said scouts like the fact that Johnson throws four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and changeup) and has good control. His ability to hit could also earn him time at first base, too.

"He's a pitchability lefty with above-average stuff and command along the lines of Mark Buehrle and also has average raw power from the left side as a solid 1B prospect," McDaniel wrote in analyzing the selection. "Johnson isn't the greatest athlete and is a little stiff, but he makes his delivery work for him and could help the Red Sox as a quick-moving savvy lefty."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Today, and only today, Florida catcher Mike Zunino is allowing himself to finally think about the Major League Baseball draft.

Otherwise, Zunino -- who is projected to be among the top five selections -- has pretty much ignored any thoughts of where he might be selected, by which team, and whether he will sign a professional contract or return to Florida for his senior season, because he’s more focused on helping the Gators return to the College World Series.

Mike Zunino
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIFlorida catcher Mike Zunino is projected as a high pick in Monday night's MLB draft.
"Honestly, it was an afterthought this whole weekend," Zunino said after the Gators’ 15-3 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday night sent them to this weekend’s Super Regional against either Vanderbilt or N.C. State. "We came out with one goal and that’s to try to make it to the College World Series, and I’ve got 34 other teammates that are trying to do the same goal, and I’m just trying to play for one cause. It was really an afterthought. Once the game starts you really don’t think about it."

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Zunino will be the highest drafted UF player in Monday night’s first round (7 p.m. ET), but there will be numerous Gators and signees selected in the three-day draft. Zunino (fourth), pitcher/DH Brian Johnson (28th), shortstop Nolan Fontana (44th) and reliever Steven Rodriguez (71st) are all ranked among the top 100 players in ESPN Insider Keith Law’s pre-draft rankings. Law also has two UF signees -- pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit) and outfielder Lewis Brinson (Tamarac, Fla./Coral Springs) -- among his top 100. McCullers is 25th and Brinson is 55th.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators got mad, and that got Georgia Tech beat.

[+] EnlargePreston Tucker
AP Photo/Phil SandlinPreston Tucker's two-run home run against Georgia Tech in the ninth inning on Saturday was his 10th career postseason homer, the most in UF history.
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.

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HOOVER, Ala. -- The Florida Gators couldn't overcome a lack of timely hits against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday night, losing 2-1 in the third round of the SEC baseball tournament.

The Gators stranded 11 runners on base against Vanderbilt pitching, leaving opportunities on the base paths nearly every inning of the three-hour game. UF mustered just four hits, only one going for extra bases.

Vanderbilt starting pitcher Sam Selman walked away with his ninth win of the year, allowing two hits in seven innings of work. The freshman threw 120 pitches, struggling with control throughout the night. In addition to four walks, he hit two batters. But his above-average fastball and biting curveball were enough to keep the Gators off balance.

“Yeah, he was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble," said VU coach Tim Corbin. "This is something that we have seen here in the last 10 weeks. It is hard to pinpoint one guy, but our success as a team stems a lot from what he was doing.

Selman blew away the UF hitters at points, striking out seven batters. Corbin said after the game that he's been proud of the way Selman has competed throughout the season.

"He has come a long way," Corbin said. "He has a good arm. He has always been able to throw the fastball. The reason he is having success is his ability to throw breaking balls and fastballs for strikes.”

UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said simply to give credit where it was due.

"He beat us," O'Sullivan said of Selman. "It was just one of those nights. I think you have to give all the credit to Selman. He threw the ball really well.

“He threw just enough breaking balls for strikes to keep us off. He really located his fastball [against] the right-handers. He did a really good job of that tonight.”

Redshirt freshman Preston Tucker started the game in right field, hitting third in the batting order. Despite driving in UF's only run with a sacrifice fly, he said he was disappointed with the way the team as a whole performed at the plate.

“It’s obviously frustrating when you’re not swinging the bat well," Tucker said. "Our guys couldn’t put anything together. We were getting people on base late in the inning when we couldn’t really start anything going. Then when we had runners in scoring position, we couldn’t really cash in. It was a combination of things.”

Hudson Randall started on the mound for UF but didn't have his normal control, walking two batters in the fourth inning that led to both of the Commodores runs. It was only his eighth and ninth walks of the season in more than 78 innings of work. It's just his second loss of the season.

“I was looking for a better start out of myself," Randall said. "I guess I didn’t have my best stuff. I was just competing as hard as I could out there, and they came up with a big hit when they needed it.”

Florida will face South Carolina on Friday afternoon.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan was expecting very little from right-hander Jonathan Crawford this season.

The Gators have one of the best pitching staffs in the nation with preseason All-American starters Hudson Randall, Brain Johnson and Karsten Whitson and a stocked bullpen led by Greg Larson, Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox. Crawford, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore who threw 3.2 innings last season, was at best going to be a mid-week starter.

Instead, he ended up being a key piece of the Gators’ weekend rotation.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It looks like Florida is finally going to have its complete pitching staff -- one which was projected to be the best in the nation -- just in time for the Gators to make their postseason run.

[+] EnlargeKarsten Whitson
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIKarsten Whitson, a freshman All-American last season, returned from a tired arm on April 3.
Fatigued arms cost the Gators two of their top three starters for varying periods of time this season, and their closer is coming off a mild bout of tendinitis, but Hudson Randall, Karsten Whitson and Austin Maddox are healthy heading into the final two weekends of Southeastern Conference play. That puts the fifth-ranked Gators at full strength for the first time since before the season began.

And that solidifies Florida (36-13, 14-10 SEC) as the favorite to win the national championship.

“We’ve put ourselves in position to where we hoped we would be,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Now we’ve got two big series left, obviously, and this week it’s a big weekend. We don’t have to watch the scoreboard. The bottom line is if we do what we’re capable of doing we’ll be right there in the hunt at the end.”

This weekend’s series against Mississippi State (30-18, 12-12), which begins today, is the just the second time Florida has had its weekend rotation of Randall, Whitson and Brian Johnson intact since the first series of the season against Cal State Fullerton. Whitson threw only 13 pitches before being pulled in his second start of the season and missed 5 weeks with what O’Sullivan said was a tired arm.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan is doing a lot of nitpicking these days.

When you’re the No. 1 team in the nation with a 16-1 record and have just tied a school record for consecutive victories, there’s really not much going wrong. So it’s all about fixing the little things as the Gators prepare to begin Southeastern Conference play this weekend at home against Vanderbilt.

"We’ve still got some things to work on," O’Sullivan said after the Gators’ 9-2 victory over sixth-ranked Florida State on Tuesday night in Gainesville. "We missed a couple signs [against FSU], a couple of hit-and-run signs, made the error there that scored the two runs. But overall, how disappointed can you be?"

Not very, because UF is playing pretty well in every aspect of the game. The Gators came out of the FSU game leading the nation in home runs (27) and are hitting .312 with 62 extra-base hits. Of the seven players with at least 50 at-bats, six are hitting .300 or better -- including catcher Mike Zunino (.417) and right fielder Preston Tucker (.313). Those two have a combined 13 home runs and 39 RBIs.

"The bottom half of our lineup is really swinging the bats well," said Tucker, who has six homers and 16 RBIs. "When the bats come alive there, and there’s guys on base for guys at the top of the lineup, it’s really tough to pitch to a lot of these hitters."

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[+] EnlargeKevin O'Sullivan
AP Photo/Eric FrancisKevin O'Sullivan's Florida Gators aim to find their way back to the championship series ... and win it.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida has the best team in college baseball. Nearly everyone says so.

The Gators sit atop the Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and USA Today/ESPN Coaches preseasons polls and had an NCAA-record seven players named preseason All-Americans by Louisville Slugger and Baseball America. Perfect Game tabbed five UF players preseason All-Americans, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association had five on its list.

UF returns seven position starters and nine pitchers from last year’s team that finished runner-up to national champion South Carolina in the College World Series. The Gators also have 14 players who are projected to be drafted in June -- including seven who could go in the first three rounds.

With all that talent and experience, expectations for the Gators are pretty high in 2012. Just making the College World Series -- something UF has done only seven times in school history -- isn’t even enough. It’s almost national title or bust.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve had expectations. They’ve been through this before, especially last year,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Hopefully they’ll draw from their experiences last year and be well prepared for it this year. We’ve talked about it. It’s Florida. There’s expectations. We want to be in Omaha every year and compete for a national championships.”

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Gator baseball No. 1 in coaches poll

January, 26, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida baseball team stands atop the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, which debuted Thursday. The Gators, got 17 first-place votes to rank ahead of No. 2 South Carolina with 12 first-place votes. Florida and South Carolina met in last season's College World Series final, in which the Gamecocks won their second consecutive national championship.

The Gators, who are also ranked No. 1 in Baseball America's and Collegiate Baseball's first polls of the season, went 53-19 last year. They open this season on Feb. 17 to begin a home series against No. 25 Cal State-Fullerton.

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan returns a strong nucleus, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year C Mike Zunino, senior OF Preston Tucker, slugger Austin Maddox and the entire weekend rotation (Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson and Karsten Whitson).

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