Jonathon Crawford wasn't even supposed to be a weekend starter for the Florida Gators this year. The Gators were set, with a rotation that included Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, and Karsten Whitson — all future MLB Draft selections. Crawford had only pitched sparingly in his freshman season in 2011, and looked like a Tuesday regular at best.
On Friday night, Jonathon Crawford pitched one of the best games in Florida baseball history in the No. 1 national seed's first game of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, twirling a no-hitter in a 4-0 defeat of Bethune-Cookman. Just because a thing is supposed to happen one way doesn't mean it will.
Crawford was selected as a starter for Friday night's game in place of Whitson, who scuffled toward the end of the regular season, and made good on the faith of skipper Kevin O'Sullivan. He struck out two batters in the first inning, and retired the first seven men before issuing a walk in the third inning (Mike Zunino immediately threw the runner, Jake Welch, out on a steal attempt), then settled into the groove that would make history. Crawford was buoyed a few fine defensive plays from Josh Tobias and Casey Turgeon, but he got 14 ground-ball outs on the night, only got into four three-ball counts on the night, threw just 98 pitches, and faced the minimum 27 batters.
The final three-ball count came on that 27th at-bat for the Wildcats. Crawford and Carlos Delgado dueled to a 3-2 count, and Delgado lanced a shot at second, only to have Turgeon snag the ball and touch off a McKethan Stadium celebration.
The no-hitter was the first by a single Florida pitcher since 1991, when John Burke threw a no-hitter against Furman in the NCAA East Regional, and both the seventh all-time for the Gators and the seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament — in fact, in Burke's and Crawford's, Florida has the last two no-hitters in NCAA Tournament play. Crawford got a standing ovation from the McKethan crowd, which swelled considerably in the final moments of the game, and got a pie in the face after the game for his efforts.
The most valuable Gator besides Crawford on the night was probably Turgeon. He accounted for all four RBI on the night, going 3-for-4 with a three-run homer, and has now gone 7-for-12 against Bethune-Cookman on the year. Preston Tucker went 2-for-4, Daniel Pigott scored two runs, and Justin Shafer had three walks, but the Gators offense, for once, was not the story of the game, despite struggling to score on Wildcats starter Rayan Gonzalez, who entered the night with a 1.96 ERA. He left it with a 2.33 ERA, but only after Turgeon put reliever Bryan Rivera's first pitch over the fence in left to bring home the second and third earned runs of Gonzalez' 4.2 innings.
But this night, of course, belongs to Crawford, the unlikely starter who had come along and become Florida's most reliably electric rotation member by the end of the season. Crawford entered the night with 60 strikeouts in 62 innings this season, by far the best ratio of any Gators starter, and has allowed just 13 extra base hits in 2012. Now, with Randall set to throw on Saturday in Florida's winners' bracket face-off with Georgia Tech, Florida's ace will have the daunting task of upstaging a no-hitter — but he and his team would seem to have momentum that the Gators haven't really had since the beginning of their SEC slate.
Searching for momentum wasn't supposed to be something that this Florida team, immensely talented and immensely impressive in laying waste to its non-conference schedule, would have to do, and getting it from Jonathon Crawford (and, to a lesser extent, Casey Turgeon) as soon as the postseason started certainly wasn't expected.
But sometimes things don't go like they're supposed or expected to — hell, I had my night all cleared out to go to this game, but after a long night and an early morning for a stats exam, I sat in a chair and watched Mean Girls for the first seven innings, before zooming to McKethan just in time to catch the final at-bat — and still go incredibly, wonderfully well.