Hoover, Ala. - Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) established a career high with nine strikeouts and freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) (2-for-4) drove in three runs to lead second-ranked Florida (41-16) to a 6-1 victory over Auburn (30-27) in the opening round of the 2012 SEC Tournament on Tuesday at Regions Park. UF broke open a 2-1 game with a three-run sixth that was highlighted by a two-run double by freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) and its pitching staff limited the SEC's top hitting team to three hits.
The third-seeded Gators will enjoy an off-day before returning to action on Thursday night in the fourth game of the day against second-seeded South Carolina, fifth-seeded Vanderbilt or eighth-seeded Georgia. The Commodores and Bulldogs play tonight and the winner will meet the Gamecocks tomorrow.
Shafer provided the Gators with a 2-0 lead in the second inning with a two-out, two-RBI single off senior Jon Luke Jacobs (5-4). Junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (2-for-4, two runs) and senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-3, two runs) opened the frame with consecutive singles into center field and were sacrificed into scoring position by Turgeon. Jacobs struck out junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) and Shafer roped a 3-2 pitch into left field that brought home both of his teammates.
Auburn answered in the third on a sacrifice fly by senior Creede Simpson that cut the deficit to 2-1. Sophomore Bobby Andrews led off with an infield single and sophomore Zach Alvord reached on a throwing error by junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) before sophomore Jay Gonzalez laid down a sacrifice bunt to move his teammates over. Simpson lofted a sacrifice fly into center field to score Andrews and Crawford fanned sophomore Ryan Tella on three pitches to end the frame.
AU senior Justin Bryant drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and went to second on a grounder by redshirt sophomore Patrick Savage. Crawford had sophomore Dan Glevenyak line out to freshman third baseman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) and then caught sophomore Blake Austin looking on strikes to strand the runner.
Crawford struck out Tella to open the sixth, matching his career high of eight K set at Miami (Fla.) on March 4. After Bryant earned a one-out free pass, Crawford fanned Savage for his ninth strikeout to notch a personal best. Glevenyak was hit by a pitch for two Tigers aboard and junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) was summoned from the bullpen. Over 5.2 innings in his SEC Tourney debut, Crawford allowed two hits and an unearned run, with nine strikeouts and four walks. Rodriguez set down junior pinch hitter Cullen Wacker on strikes to preserve the Gators' advantage.
Turgeon delivered a key two-run double and Shafer chipped in with a two-out RBI single in the home part of the sixth to expand Florida's lead to 5-1. Johnson and Pigott had consecutive one-out singles and Turgeon's eighth two-bagger of the year into the gap in right center increased the Gators' margin to three runs and ended the tenure of Jacobs (5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 6 K, 2 BB). Junior Slade Smith had Ramjit ground out and Shafer blooped a base-knock into right field to drive in Turgeon and pick up his third RBI.
Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) gave the Gators another insurance run with a two-out double in the seventh that scored Fontana for a 6-1 cushion. Fontana had singled with one down, advanced to second on a wild pitch by Smith and took third on a grounder by senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.). Zunino collected his SEC-leading 25th double into the right-field corner to bring home Fontana.
Rodriguez worked 1.2 scoreless and hitless innings, with a couple of strikeouts and walk, before senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) took over with one down in the eighth and recorded a pair of outs. Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) kept the Tigers off the board in the ninth to secure the win. Florida held a 10-3 advantage in hits in taking its opening-round contest for the second-straight year. The Orange and Blue now has four-straight double-digit hit performances.