Florida's bats took a day off from taking the day off against good pitching against South Carolina on Friday. But the real star of the Gators' 7-2 win over the SEC East champion Gamecocks, which eliminated South Carolina from the SEC Tournament, was Brian Johnson — for what he did on the mound.
Johnson threw the first complete game of his Florida career against the Gamecocks, going the distance, allowing five hits and two earned runs while striking out five batters, and using just 90 pitches (67 of which were strikes) to do it all. It was the first time Johnson had pitched more than seven innings in his career, and came just a week after he had matched that mark against Auburn; it was also the sort of performance that got Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers raving about Johnson ($), and one that reaffirms that the Gators have at least two great college pitchers at the top of their staff (Hudson Randall and Johnson) even if Karsten Whitson continues to scuffle.
In light of Johnson's career outing, Florida's offensive revival was almost overshadowed, but the Gators acquitted themselves nicely against South Carolina's Colby Holmes and Evan Beal. Each Gamecocks pitcher allowed at least three earned runs in their respective 2.1 innings of work, and Florida built a 7-0 lead by the middle of the fifth.
Mike Zunino figured in that attack, with a two-run homer and three RBI, and Casey Turgeon added two more RBI from the No. 6 spot. Preston Tucker, elevated to the No. 2 spot in the order, went 2-for-5, and Nolan Fontana's two hits, two walks, and three runs from the leadoff spot showed that he's still one of the collegiate game's finest table-setters.
After the cut, highlights via GatorVision.
This performance, which gives the Gators three wins in four tries against the defending College World Series champs, is the sort of night that propels a team to a long postseason run. The Gators will have a chance to avenge a Thursday loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern (Whitson will start for Florida), but they may have already gotten the mojo they were looking for from their play on Friday. An SEC Tournament championship would be gravy.