Gators prosper after downpour

Big first inning propels top-ranked Florida

nwhite@thestate.comMarch 24, 2012 

Before South Carolina baseball fans could get settled into their wet seats after a 79-minure rain delay Friday night at Carolina Stadium, Florida splashed more cold water on them with five first-inning runs.

The eighth-ranked Gamecocks never recovered from the outburst as the No. 1 Gators evened the series with an 8-2 victory behind the pitching of junior left-hander Brian Johnson.

“I thought Brian Johnson was really good,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “He had good stuff. He was able to locate (his pitches). He got in a good rhythm out there.”

USC (17-6, 1-4 SEC) and Florida (21-2, 4-1) will play the deciding game of the series today at 1 p.m. USC right-hander Colby Holmes will face Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford.

Johnson (4-0) held the Gamecocks to two runs over six innings on five hits and two walks. The Gators, meanwhile, jumped on USC right-hander Forrest Koumas (1-2), who was making his first start of the season, for five runs in the first inning.

Koumas was moved to the bullpen this season, where he has saved three games, to open a spot for Matt Price in the starting rotation. But when Price came on to finish Thursday’s win over the Gators, Koumas returned to his former role. It didn’t work out this night, however, as he gave up four hits and three walks in the first inning. Florida sent 10 batters to the plate, but Koumas struck out the side along the way.

“They’re a great-hitting team. When I threw it in there, they hit,” Koumas said. “You have to have a short memory as a pitcher. I’m ready to get back out there and erase that one out of my head.”

Mike Zunino blasted a three-run shot over the left-center field fence that almost left the stadium, his eighth homer of the season, and Johnson followed one pitch later with a solo shot to left to make it 4-0. The fifth run came when Koumas, who pitched in relief Tuesday against Furman, balked with the bases loaded.

Tanner felt Koumas was sharp and loose when the game started with a strikeout of Nolan Fontana.

“I was encouraged,” Tanner said. “I thought he had good stuff, but it didn’t equate in the box score.”

Florida added another run in the second after Johnson delivered a two-out RBI single off reliever Nolan Belcher.

“They were very good tonight. They swung the bats,” said Tanner, who noted Florida’s power and pitching were primary reasons for the No. 1 ranking. “I was not surprised at all. They can do everything extremely well.”

The teams later traded runs on solo homers, Christian Walker broke up Johnson’s shutout in the fourth inning with a shot to left, his third homer. Vickash Ramjit answered with a blast of his own into the Florida bullpen off Belcher to start the sixth inning to give the Gators a 7-1 lead.

“It’s what we expected. They’re a good team,” Walker said. “They’re not going to let us push them around.”

Brison Celek’s RBI double cut the lead to 7-2 in the bottom half of the sixth inning, but Ramjit responded in the ninth with his second homer of the game to make it 8-2.

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