Mike Zunino is a proven performer in big games, a future major-leaguer, and he will guide the Florida Gators into the SEC Championship. He already began his heroics in the Gators' last game against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The sophomore catcher drove in three, with the last two coming via his league-leading 16th home run of the season. The blast gave the Gators a 4-0 lead, and they went on to route the Gamecocks 7-2.
Zunino's play should come as a surprise to no one. He is the nation's No. 2 ranked player, per College Baseball Daily and a top prospect for the MLB draft on June 4. MLB Draft Insider has Zunino slated to go third overall.
The kid is clutch, if you doubt it just think back to what he did in the College World Series in 2011. A freshman going 3-3 in Game 2 of the series was just a glimpse of what he can do.
The Gators and Zunino will have revenge on their minds in this matchup. They lost a close 2-1 decision on Friday. Florida's offense looked great against a usually solid Gamecocks' team.
So how did the Commodores hold the Gators to only one run?
Largely by walking Zunino three times. He got absolutely zero support from his teammates, and the Gators can't win like that.
He was 0-1 and a non-factor on offense as DH Brian Johnson was more of a designated misser in that game. He struck out three times and went 0-4 on the day. Preston Tucker, the Gators' RF, didn't do much better hitting ahead of Zunino.
He was 0-3 with a walk.
Johnson is still struggling, but Tucker is swinging the bat better. He had two hits against South Carolina forcing the Gamecocks to pitch to Zunino, and he made them pay.
Tucker must get on base to put the pressure on the Commodores to pitch to Zunino as well.
In the rematch Tucker will be aware of this, and he'll show the patience required to give the Gators' best player the at-bats with runners on base. He looked much better on Friday going 2-5 with a run scored, and I believe that momentum will carry over.
The Gators will turn to Karsten Whitson on the mound, and he will be tasked with keeping the game close, so the Florida bats can continue their offensive explosion from yesterday. He has a great arm, and though he suffered from arm fatigue earlier in the season, he has thrown the ball better of late, and I expect him to be sharp with so much on the line.
Vandy can't avoid Zunino forever, and when they are finally forced to pitch to him, he will come through.
Look for a big day from Zunino and the Gators to earn a berth in the SEC championship.
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