By Andrew Olson/Special to the Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a low-scoring game, one pitch can decide the outcome. Florida slugger Mike Zunino tilted the series in the fifth-ranked Gators favor when he capitalized on a mistake by Jacob Lindgren and homered to left field, dealing No. 25 Mississippi State a 2-1 loss in Sunday’s series finale.
“We wanted to pitch Zunino out of the zone,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “He got hold of a belt-high fastball, and that was it.”
Zunino is the reigning SEC Player of the Year and leads Florida in home runs (13), but had been struggling as of late. The Gator catcher was just 1 for 9 in the series prior to the solo home run.
Lindgren (1-2) took the loss, while Florida closer Austin Maddox (3-2) notched the win with 21/3 efficient innings. Maddox needed only 17 pitches to retire all seven Bulldogs he faced.
Hits were scarce, three for each team, in a game that featured 11 pitchers.
Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) got its first hit of the afternoon came when Hunter Renfroe roped a solo homer to left field off of Karsten Whitson, giving the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead.
The Gators (38-14, 16-11 SEC) responded in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a throwing error on a Vickash Ramjit leadoff single. Ramjit was bunted over to third and scored on a Preston Tucker ground out.
The 1-1 tie stood for the next 41/2 innings. In a battle of the bullpens, Ross Mitchell stood out for the Bulldogs. The redshirt freshman lefty tossed 31/3 scoreless innings, retiring ten consecutive UF batters.
“Ross was outstanding for us,” Cohen said. “We didn’t really get what we wanted from (starter) Evan (Mitchell), but Ross was perfect right up until the walk.”
Mitchell’s leadoff walk to Justin Shafer in the seventh did not cost the Bulldogs. Caleb Reed retired right-handed batters Josh Tobias and Ramjit before handing off to southpaw Jacob Lindgren, to face left-handed hitting Nolan Fontana.
Lindgren retired Fontana, and the Gators had stranded their sixth base runner of the day. Bulldogs outdid Florida in that category, leaving 13 men on base.
Renfroe, who finished the series 7 for 13, said he thinks the Bulldogs can turn it around to close out the season on a high note.
“We’ve got everybody healthy right now. Our hitting is starting to come around the corner,” Renfroe said.
Rounding the corner could put Mississippi State on the winning end of close games. Prior to Renfroe’s homer, the Bulldogs were unable to score with runners on first and third in the first and the bases loaded in the second inning.
MSU returns to Starkville for a four-game homestand to finish the regular season.