Florida Gators: Nolan Fontana

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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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Five Florida baseball players were named to the All-Southeastern Conference teams released Tuesday, including four who were named to the first team.

Outfielder Preston Tucker, catcher Mike Zunino, pitcher/DH Brian Johnson and reliever Steven Rodriguez made the first team in a vote by the league's 12 coaches. Shortstop Nolan Fontana was a second-team selection. It is the third time Tucker and Fontana have earned All-SEC honors. Only four others players in school history -- Josh Adams, Mike Stanley, Brad Wilkerson and Marc Valdes -- have accomplished that feat.

Zunino leads the Gators (42-18) with a .323 average, 27 doubles, 16 home runs, and 55 RBIs. Tucker (.312) is second with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs. Johnson has started a team-high 15 games as a left-handed pitcher and is 7-4 with a 3.67 ERA. He's hitting .318 with five home runs and 39 RBI. Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 2.04 ERA and three saves.

Fontana is hitting .290 with nine home runs and 28 RBI. He and Zunino also were named to the SEC's All-Defensive team.

In addition, third baseman Josh Tobias (.245, 7 RBI) was named to the All-Freshman team.
HOOVER, Ala. -- The University of Florida Gators saw red Friday night at the SEC baseball tournament. The third-seeded Gators jumped on the South Carolina Gamecocks from the start, putting up four runs in the first three innings on their way to a 7-2 win and a shot at a semifinal rematch against Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon.

The UF offense started the tournament strong with a 6-1 win over Auburn on Tuesday, but came to a screeching halt Thursday against the fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores, losing 3-2. Coming into the postseason, UF had handled Vanderbilt in 2012, going undefeated in three matchups.

Four batters had multiple hits against South Carolina on Friday night. Catcher Mike Zunino led all hitters with three RBIs, two of which came on a laser home run over the left field fence in the top of the third inning.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nolan Fontana’s new approach of less thinking has resulted in more offensive production.

Florida’s junior shortstop has been pounding the baseball in his last seven games, hitting .542 (13 for 24) and driving in seven runs, since he quit being so picky about which pitches he chose to try and hit. He’s no longer over-analyzing every at-bat and has simplified his approach to: See good pitch, hit good pitch.

Nolan Fontana
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireShortstop Nolan Fontana has been lights out at the plate for Florida lately.
"I guess sometimes I was in those modes where I’m being too patient and being too picky," Fontana said as the top-ranked Gators (29-8, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) prepared to play host to Georgia (23-15, 7-8) for a three-game series beginning Friday. "He [coach Kevin O’Sullivan] has talked to me about it, and what I’m trying to do lately is focus on seeing the ball well and hitting it."

That’s exactly what he’s doing. Fontana has had at least two hits in five of his last seven games, including a 4-for-4 performance against Tennessee on April 13. He followed up with four walks the following day against the Vols.

"Instead of the ball looking like it does, it looks a little bigger -- like a grapefruit," he said. "Sometimes even softball size.

"You just try not to think, and I feel that the more I think as a hitter the more trouble I get into instead of just seeing the ball and hitting the ball."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan wanted was just one run.

Trailing 2-0 with two runners on with one out in the bottom of the third inning against rival Florida State, getting one run was the goal to stop the Seminoles' momentum. Preston Tucker gave O'Sullivan what he wanted -- plus two more. The senior right fielder hit a three-run homer over the right-field wall to spark the Gators to a 9-2 victory in front of a McKethan Stadium-record crowd of 6,005 Tuesday night.

"We were down two runs at the time," said Tucker, who is second on the team with 16 RBIs and six home runs. "We were trying to at least get one across. He left it up a little bit and I put a good swing on it."

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak to Florida State. It also was UF's 14th win in a row, which tied a school record set in 2001 and 2004.

Tucker's homer loosened up UF's offense. Nolan Fontana drove in a run in the fourth on a groundout and another in the sixth on a solo home run. Mike Zunino drove in runs in the seventh on a sacrifice fly and in the eighth on a single. Daniel Pigott also drove in a pair of runs in the eighth on a single.

While the top-ranked Gators (16-1) were rolling offensively, the sixth-ranked Seminoles (14-2) couldn't solve UF's bullpen. UF relievers Greg Larson, Steven Rodriguez, Daniel Gibson and Austin Maddox limited FSU to just two hits in 6.1 innings and at one point retired 12 consecutive batters until Sherman Johnson's one-out single in the eighth.

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