“I’ve never been so excited to strikeout,” Nolan Fontana joked after the four-hour, 56-minute game that was Florida’s longest since a 7-6 win over LSU in 1996.
It was a nightmare situation for Georgia (23-16/7-9 SEC). The game had gone since the eighth inning without either side scoring. Fontana, facing Georgia left-hander and former high school teammate Blake Dieterich, knew the importance of the situation. Florida was stretching out the arms of its important bullpen members, trying to stay in the game and have a chance to win.
When Fontana swung over strike three, Fontana didn’t put his head down and walk back to the dugout. He avoided Brandon Stephens’ tag with a slight move and carried the bat halfway to first base with him out of frustration.
As Fontana got closer to the base, he noticed the first baseman was off the base in foul territory waiting on the ball. As he got closer and closer to the base, his excitement level picked up. Stephens then launched the ball over the head of first baseman Jonathan Hester.
Vickash Ramjit, who reached on a walk with one out in the inning, ran home immediately after Fontana swung and missed.
“I sprinted home,” Ramjit said. “(Third base coach Craig Bell) was like, ‘Go home! Go home!’ and the next thing you know, I got home and the ball was overthrown, so it was a strikeout walkoff.”
Ramjit scored easily, and the team ran out to greet Fontana at second base and celebrate their newly minted term—the walk-off strikeout.
“Who’s going to be the guy to clutch up with the strikeout?” Fontana joked about his mindset going into the at-bat.
When the team huddled in the dugout after the game to talk, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said that Fontana told the team, ‘that’s the way you strike out.’ After the pitch, O’Sullivan said he was beginning to run through his mind the Georgia hitters coming to the plate in the 17th inning.
He kept his eyes on the play until it ended, but his mind was starting to prepare for what was coming to the plate for the Bulldogs.
“I was going to look to see who was coming up and talk to (catcher) Mike (Zunino) through the first few hitters (of the 17th),” O’Sullivan said with a smile.
The Florida bullpen totaled 11.2 innings, allowing eight hits, one run and no walks while striking out eleven hitters.
“It gets to a point where it’s borderline comical,” O’Sullivan said. “You’re in the 16th, it’s after midnight and we haven’t been in a situation like this. Other teams have played in games like this, but we haven’t.
“We haven’t been involved in a game like that since we’ve been here.”
Georgia starting pitcher Alex Wood went eight innings to keep the Gators stagnant on offense. He allowed eight hits, two runs and four walks while striking out seven. The redshirt sophomore has been Georgia’s ace this season.
“We faced a first rounder for the first eight innings,” O’Sullivan said.
The series continues on Saturday at 7 p.m. Florida will send junior left-hander Brian Johnson to the mound to face Georgia senior right-hander Michael Palazzone.