Florida expects pitcher Johnson back in lineup

By The Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida should have one of its best players back for this weekend’s super regional matchup against Mississippi State.

But the Gators still aren’t sure about the return of their top closer.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Thursday that pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson has gone through several practices and a bullpen session without showing signs of the concussion that kept him out of last weekend’s NCAA Gainesville Regional.

“He’s fully rested,” O’Sullivan said. “He looked great. You get to this point in the year, a guy who throws 80, 85 innings, it’s not a bad thing that he gets a week off, 10 days off.”

Johnson was injured on May 28th when catcher Mike Zunino hit him in the back of the head while trying to throw out a runner at second base in a game against Georgia. Johnson has been a regular weekend starter and is 8-3 with a 3.66 ERA. He’s hitting .312 with five home runs and 27 RBI as a designated hitter and first baseman.

O’Sullivan isn’t as sure about first baseman/closer Austin Maddox, however. The sophomore suffered a sprained left foot while running down a foul ball against Manhattan last Friday and missed the rest of the NCAA regional.

“Austin’s more day-to-day,” he said. “I’m probably less optimistic about him this weekend.”

Maddox has emerged as Florida’s top closer as the season has progressed. He is 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA with five saves in 19 games. He’s also hitting .280 with six home runs and 30 RBI.

Maddox and Johnson played key roles in Florida’s four games against Mississippi State this season. Maddox recorded two saves and Johnson drove in six-runs — including a grand slam that gave the Gators (48-16) a come-from-behind victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He also threw six scoreless innings in Florida’s 18-0 victory in Starkville in the second game of a three-game series.

Mississippi State (37-23), which won the Atlanta Regional as a No. 3 seed, is buoyed by the fact they played Florida close in all but one game. The familiarity with the Gators has them pretty confident despite a 1-3 record.

“We’ve played them four times and we’ve hung in there with them three of the four,” outfielder C.T. Bradford said. “We feel good. We feel like we’ve seen their entire staff and we’re going to be just fine.”

The Bulldogs’ coach, John Cohen, said the familiarity helps a little but won’t do any good if the team doesn’t play well.

“As a coach you can drive yourself crazy analyzing the other club to death,” said Cohen, a former Florida assistant under Pat McMahon. “Florida’s not going to give you anything. They’re not going to walk you. They’re not going to give you errors. You have to go out and you have to earn it.”