Gators beat N.C. State 7-1
Not even two rain delays totaling nearly 3 hours slowed Florida.
Mike Zunino homered and drove in three runs, Hudson Randall pitched seven scoreless innings and the Gators beat North Carolina State 7-1 in the opener of their best-of-three NCAA super regional series Saturday.
The top-seeded Gators (46-18) improved to 9-0 against Atlantic Coast Conference teams this season and need one more win to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the third consecutive year.
Florida and North Carolina State play Game 2 on Sunday. The Wolfpack (43-19) will send undefeated left-hander Carlos Rodon to the mound with their season on the line.
"We know tomorrow's a totally different game than it was today," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We can't carry any runs into tomorrow. We know they're throwing arguably their ace, and we've got to come out and be ready to play. We're one win away. We'll see what happens."
If the Gators keep hitting and pitching like they have lately, they will be difficult to beat.
Florida led 5-0 behind Randall's gem when heavy rain halted the game for 2 hours, 3 minutes in the bottom of the seventh. The game had a second stoppage, this one for 48 minutes, in the eighth.
The initial pause sent Randall (9-2) to the bench, but did little to spark the Wolfpack. North Carolina State finally scored with two outs in the ninth.
Zunino drove reliever Dillon Frye's second pitch after the first delay into the left-field bleachers, a two-run shot that prompted questions about why coach Elliott Avent would keep Frye in the game after the lengthy interruption. Avent said Frye struggled to get warm after the break.
Zunino homered for the 19th time this season, equaling his total from last season. The third overall pick this week in the major league amateur draft has homered in three consecutive games.
The real damage came earlier.
Florida scored four runs in the third off starter Ethan Ogburn and chased the right-hander with another one in the fifth.
Ogburn (5-4) started instead of Rodon, a freshman who is 9-0 with a 1.61 ERA. Avent considered going with Rodon, but eventually decided to stick with his normal rotation.
"It's a three-game series," Avent said. "You're not going to win it opening day."
Randall was nearly flawless, scattering six hits. He admittedly had to battle through his last start, but clearly had better stuff Saturday. He struck out four and walked none. A junior who was drafted in the seventh round Tuesday, Randall improved to 5-1 in the NCAA tournament. He has allowed just four runs in his last five starts.
"I guess you could say I'm more focused," Randall said. "I'm starting to hit my stride I feel like. ... I'm definitely focused coming playoff time, postseason. I've got to give my best effort."
Staking Randall to a four-run lead pretty much sealed it.
Josh Tobias, Nolan Fontana and Preston Tucker got things started with consecutive one-out singles. Tobias scored on Tucker's single to right. The Wolfpack looked like they would get out of the inning with minimal damage when Zunino grounded to short. But Chris Diaz's throw skipped by the first baseman, allowing Fontana and Tucker to score. Daniel Pigott added a two-out single that made it 4-0.
Pigott came through again in the fifth, delivering a deep fly ball that scored Tucker.
That provided plenty of cushion for Randall, who stranded four runners at second base.
"He's a gamer," O'Sullivan said. "There's certain players that you coach that have the ability to rise to the occasion. You can't teach it. It is what it is, and he's had it since Day 1. He continues to have it. He has a calming effect on you as a coach. You know you're going to get his best effort every time. He's proved time and time again he can rise to the occasion."
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