By Andrew Olson/Special to the Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A late two-run homer served as the knockout punch in Chris Stratton’s first loss of the season, as No. 25 Mississippi State (30-19, 12-13 SEC) fell 4-1 to No. 5 Florida (37-13, 15-10 SEC).
In the top of the eighth, Stratton (9-1, 2.22) returned to the mound despite having thrown 106 pitches.
It was not a tough call for pitching coach Butch Thompson, filling in for the suspended John Cohen, as the Bulldog ace had tossed seven frames allowing only one earned run.
“We didn’t give him the eighth last week. He asked for it tonight, and down one run to a top-10 team, this is the kind of game you give it to him,” Thompson said.
The Gators were clinging to a 2-1 lead, when cleanup hitter Brian Johnson reached on an error by left fielder Tyler Fullerton. Florida’s top hitter for average, Daniel Pigott (.335) initially squared up to bunt. He pulled back, and got the best of Stratton, launching a two-run blast to McKethan Stadium’s left field bleachers.
Stratton, a Tupelo native, asserted that it was the signal from Pigott, not a tired arm, which led to the homer.
“I felt fine. It’s just he squared up to bunt. He pulled back, and got under one,” Stratton said.
The late homer deflated the No. 25 Bulldogs dugout and proved too much to overcome.
Hunter Renfroe was the only MSU hitter who seemed to figure out Hudson Randall (6-1, 3.29), as he accounted for three of the Bulldogs five hits off the Florida ace.
In the fifth inning, Renfroe hit a one-out double to right field. Matthew Britton followed with an RBI single. Randall recovered with back-to-back groundouts, and the Bulldogs were unable to score the rest of the night and could not bail out Stratton.
Stratton opened with a clean first inning, but allowed a lead off single to Brian Johnson in the second. A single by Pigott and a one-out walk loaded the bases. Stratton struck out Taylor Gushue swinging to bring up nine-hole hitter, Josh Tobias.
Tobias was hit in the hand on a controversial 1-2 pitch. Thompson argued that Tobias was swinging, but the umpires upheld the initial call, giving UF a 1-0 lead. Stratton recovered, as Nolan Fontana fouled out and the Gators stranded three.
In the third, Stratton got two bad breaks. Florida catcher Mike Zunino hit a fly ball to left center field. MSU outfielders Renfroe and Fullerton collided, resulting in a one-out double for Zunino. Zunino, who advanced to third on the second out, scored on a routine grounder to short for what looked like a sure third out, but Adam Frazier could not scoop the ball off the ground.