Gators bite back with blowout win

STARKVILLE – Jonathan Ogden said Florida would come out “fired up” and “hot” after Friday night’s loss. Unfortunately for the shortstop and his Mississippi State team, he was right.
The No. 4-ranked Gators bounced back in a big way and battered the Bulldogs on Saturday, 18-0, to set up today’s noon rubber match.
With 10,332 looking on, MSU starter Chris Stratton (4-3) had the shortest outing of his career, failing to get out of the second inning as Florida (25-7, 8-3 SEC) posted eight runs. After Stratton exited with two outs and the bases full, reliever Chad Girodo’s first pitch was blasted by Mike Zunino way over the 376-foot sign in left-center field for a grand slam.
Florida had 18 hits Saturday, and every Gator starter had at least one hit. MSU pitchers issued six walks and hit two batters.
“We still swung the bats well (Friday) night. We tried to carry that over to today,” said Zunino, who was 3 for 4 with five RBIs. “We were just waiting for the bats to heat up, and they did today.”
After a quiet first inning, Stratton had control issues in the second, allowing three singles, walking two and hitting a batter. Seven of the runs that inning went on his ledger, the most he’s given up since Alabama pinned eight on him last season.
“He’s trying to kind of cut his delivery off instead of finishing pitches,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Chris is one of those kids who works really, really hard, and he’ll do all the stuff he has to prepare for next week, and hopefully he’ll be able to go out and really attack the strike zone next week.”
Stratton was at a loss to explain it.
“I have all the confidence in the world, trust my defense, trust my coaches, I just really personally put this on me,” the sophomore said. “I couldn’t get it done.”
This was MSU’s worst loss since 1998, when it fell 22-4 to Tennessee in Pat McMahon’s first season as head coach. It was the second-worst shutout loss in school history, topped only by a 20-0 setback to Vanderbilt in 1923.
It was the third time this season MSU (21-10, 5-6) has been shut out, the other two coming at Vanderbilt.
Florida starter Brian Johnson (5-1) tossed six strong innings, allowing six hits and walking none. MSU got two runners on base twice against Johnson but couldn’t get the timely hits.
There were men at second and third in the third inning with only one out, but Johnson fanned Daryl Norris and Ogden to keep it a 10-0 Florida lead.
Catcher Cody Freeman had three of MSU’s eight hits, and Jarrod Parks had the only extra-base hit, a double in the third inning.
Left-hander Nick Routt (0-1, 2.61 ERA) will pitch for MSU today opposite Florida freshman Karsten Whitson (4-0, 2.06). Routt, who’s overcoming elbow issues, has yet to exceed 32/3 innings in any of his three starts this season.
“We’d like to get five or six innings out of him, but you’ve got (Luis) Pollorena behind him,” Cohen said. “We have some other options there.”
• Game summary, Page 2B

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal