GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Gators are tired of hearing about how they failed to meet expectations this season.
Two more wins will, and everything will be quiet.
The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament capped a dominant weekend by thumping Georgia Tech 15-3 on Sunday and winning the Gainesville Regional.
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Mike Zunino and Daniel Pigott drove in four runs apiece as the Gators (45-18) advanced to the super regionals for the fourth consecutive year. They will host Vanderbilt or North Carolina State.
“I think this team is, to be honest with you, probably tired of hearing about how people have thought they did not play to their potential,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’re the No. 1 national seed and we’re using that as motivation moving forward.”
Florida made advancing look easy, scoring four runs in the first, three in the second and really pulling away with a seven-run fifth. Zunino had a three-run homer in the second and a sacrifice fly in the fourth. Pigott had a two-run double in the first and a two-run single in the fifth.
Zunino’s homer was his 18th of the season and showed how well he’s handled the pressure of the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. The power-hitting catcher is expected to be one of the top picks.
“Honestly, it was an afterthought this whole weekend,” Zunino said. “We came out with one goal, and that’s to try to make it to the College World Series. I’m just trying to play for one cause.”
Florida advanced to the best-of-three championship series last season before losing to South Carolina. The Gators returned nearly every starter and their top three pitchers, so expectations have been high all season. They opened the year as the preseason No. 1, but went 4-4 down the stretch before getting named the overall top seed.
They seemed to flip a switch in the tournament, though. The Gators dominated the regional, getting a no-hitter in the opener and allowing five runs in two wins against the Yellow Jackets (38-26). Twelve of Florida’s 28 hits went for extra bases, and the team’s ERA was a measly 1.67.
“Things are starting to go the right way now,” Zunino said. “We’re getting good starts, the bats are coming around, we’re getting some timely hits, our pen’s been great and our defense is playing amazing. It’s a good feeling and I hope we can carry it one from here on out.”
Brian Johnson (8-4) allowed three hits and a run in five innings for the win. His teammates staked him to a 7-0 lead after two innings, allowing him to focus on just throwing strikes.
“It’s easy to pitch (with a big lead),” Johnson said. “You almost get made when you throw a ball.”
Pigott got things started with a fisted double down the right-field line. Preston Tucker and Zunino scored on the two-out hit. Both reached on walks. Justin Shafer capped the big first inning with a two-run single up the middle.
Georgia Tech starter Jake Davies (1-4) was off from his first pitch. He gave up five hits and walked four in two innings, surrendering six earned runs.
“We got behind right out of the gate,” Tech coach Danny Hall said. “We were just behind the 8-ball early, and when you’re playing somebody as good as they are with as good of pitching as they have, it’s a pretty tough uphill climb from there. … Not good enough to compete with those guys.”
Florida made it a lopsided game by batting around in the fifth. Things were going so well for Florida that even when Zunino struck out swinging, the ball got away and allowed him to reach safely.
“Tonight was a good showing,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re capable of.”
Florida improved to 31-8 at home this season — two wins shy of getting back to Omaha, Neb.
“They went into the year ranked No. 1, a lot of the guys that played for that national championship last year are on this team and I’m sure they’re hungry to get back there and they’re No. 1 for a reason,” Hall said. “They’re good and they’re talented.”