UF baseball bests Auburn in SEC tourney

HOOVER, Ala. -- Jonathan Crawford wasted no time acclimating himself to life in the postseason. The true sophomore who threw exclusively out of the Florida bullpen last year shrugged as he stepped on the pitching mound Tuesday at Regions Field for the start of the SEC baseball tournament. The lanky right-hander then proceeded to blow away the Auburn Tigers, pitching 5.2 innings of two-hit baseball and leading the Gators to a first-round win, 6-1.

Auburn did not get a single hit out of the infield against Crawford -- one hit coming on a bunt single and the other on a dribbler that the first baseman and the pitcher lost in their crosshairs.

Crawford tiptoed around four walks and an error, throwing some 85 pitches on the afternoon. After the game, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan called Crawford one of the team’s MVPs for all his work in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen.

“Jonathan did an outstanding job. He gave us a great start,” O’Sullivan said. "It all starts on the mound and Jonathan threw well today.

“I thought he battled. I thought he showed some maturity.”

Auburn coach John Pawlowski said Crawford pitched well and limited the offensive opportunities.

“They have some really good, high-end arm strength and some good out-pitches,” Pawlowski said of the UF pitching staff that has held Auburn to seven runs in four meetings this season.

The UF bullpen shut things down when Crawford exited in the sixth after allowing back-to-back base runners on a walk and a hit-batsman. Steven Rodriguez, Greg Larson and Austin Maddox combined to allow just one hit over the final 3.1 innings.

Florida’s bats were streaky against Auburn pitching, picking up two runs in the second inning on a two-run single from Justin Shafer. Four innings later, Florida opened up the game on a two-run double and an RBI single from Shafer to push the lead to 5-1. UF added another run in the seventh inning on an RBI-double from Mike Zunino.

Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs said the game plan was to stay away from Zunino and Preston Tucker. While Zunino did drive in a run, it wasn’t the top of the order that hurt the Tigers.

“They didn’t, but then you have to tip your hat to the middle of the lineup,” Jacobs said. The Nos. 4, 5 and 6 batters combined to go 5-for-10 with five runs and two RBIs.

The Gators will start Hudson Randall in the Thursday night game and face the winner of Wednesday's game that pits No. 2 seed South Carolina and the winner of Tuesday night's Vanderbilt-Georgia game.