It turns out it wasn't actually the heat that would stymie Florida and North Carolina State in the first game of the Gainesville Super Regional on Saturday: it was the rain. But Florida built a 5-0 lead before two rain delays, Mike Zunino belted a home run between them, and the Gators topped N.C. State, 7-1, to take a 1-0 lead and move 27 outs from a return trip to Omaha.
Florida ace Hudson Randall tossed seven innings of scoreless ball in one of his finest outings of the year, scattering six hits, walking none, and fanning four. His day was finished when Greg Larson came in for relief after a two-hour rain delay in the bottom of the seventh. Two pitches to Zunino, the second ripped to left for a two-run homer, and a four-pitch walk later, another rain delay was called; it lasted 48 minutes. The grounds crew somehow managed to get the field back into playing conditions, despite the ponds that formed in the outfield.
Before the rain came, Florida's bats got five runs with minimal thunder. The Gators tagged N.C. State starter Evan Ogburn for five runs and eight hits, all singles, and Zunino had the biggest hit of those first seven innings, rapping an RBI should-have-been-a-groundout and advancing to second on a throwing error that scored a run to give Florida a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Florida tacked on another run in that inning, a fifth in the fifth, and the two final runs of the day on Zunino's homer.
The Gators didn't concede their lone run of the day until the ninth, when Keenan Kish, on for the final two outs, gave it up. In the eighth, with a runner on first from a walk, Greg Larson served up a single to Ryan Matthews which got through the legs of left fielder Justin Shafer to put runners on second and third. But Kevin O'Sullivan replaced Larson with Bobby Poyner, who came back from a 3-0 count to get the strikeout and end the inning.
The Gators will look to close out the Wolfpack on Sunday in an elimination game that begins at 1 p.m. at McKethan Stadium. N.C. State will start freshman phenom Carlos Rodon, with a sub-2.00 ERA and over 130 strikeouts on the season, with its season on the line.
Elements of this post were also written by Lance Davis. Thanks, Lance!