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Zunino's home run lifts No. 6 Gators over No. 25 Mississippi State baseball in 2-1 series finale loss for the Bulldogs

 

Matt Stevens

 

STAFF REPORT 

 

 

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Sixth-ranked Florida managed only three hits Sunday afternoon against Mississippi State pitching. 

 

However, one of those three hits was a game-winning home run by Mike Zunino. Zunino's one-out blast in the bottom of the eighth inning carried the Gators past the 25th-ranked Bulldogs 2-1 in the final game of a weekend Southeastern Conference series at McKethan Stadium. 

 

The victory gave Florida its third straight regular-season series win against MSU, not including last season's Super Regional series win by UF. MSU dropped to 31-20 overall and 13-14 in league play, while Florida improved to 38-14 and 16-11. Six of the Bulldogs' 14 league losses have been by a single run. 

 

"We put ourselves in a position and when we get there we can't convert it," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "We are always on the edge because everything is a close game. I am proud of how the kids are competing right now, but we just aren't doing it offensively." 

 

Ross Mitchell was dominant in relief. Mitchell entered in relief of starter Evan Mitchell, who was lifted with two outs in the third inning. Ross Mitchell retired the first 10 batters he faced before issuing a lead-off walk in the seventh inning. Caleb Reed and Jacob Lindgren followed in relief and each got critical strikeouts to work MSU out of the tight spot in the seventh inning. 

 

Lindgren (1-2) was not as fortunate an inning later. After getting the leadoff out, Zunino's second hit of the weekend and 13th home run of the season gave the Gators the lead for good. 

 

For a second straight day, MSU scored first with a single run in the third inning. Hunter Renfroe slapped his fourth home run of the year for a 1-0 lead. The Bulldogs had threatened earlier with four combined walks and a hit batsman during their first two at-bats. 

 

Florida answered with a lone run in the home half of the third inning. Vickash Ramjit singled and took second on a throwing error. After a sacrifice bunt, a groundball out by Preston Tucker brought home the game-tying run. 

 

The Bulldogs stranded three in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth inning. Things then got tough as the dynamic 1-2 relief punch of Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox (3-2) closed the door. That duo walked two and allowed no hits in the final 4.1 innings of work. 

 

"In fairness, not many people are hitting Maddox or Rodriguez in our league right now," Cohen said. "However, we have to be better offensively. We are disappointed but not disappointed in the effort." 

 

The Bulldogs stranded 13 base runners in Saturday's 2-0 victory and stranded 13 additional runners Sunday. MSU finished the weekend with four total runs on 16 base hits. Renfroe had seven of those hits in the weekend series. 

 

Florida managed six totals runs on 13 base hits during the weekend series. 

 

"The kids have been through so much this year," Cohen said. "It would mean a lot to them to have a big crowd show up to give them some support this week. They have competed and worked hard all year and deserve it. There is so much left in our season. There is so much we want to accomplish. And we can still reach those goals." 

 

MSU closes the regular season by playing four home games. The Bulldogs host Central Arkansas at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. For the weekend, ninth-ranked Kentucky comes calling. The Bulldogs and Wildcats play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

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