Gators earn sweep of Auburn

Florida finds itself tied for the Eastern Division lead after sweeping Auburn on the opening weekend of Southeastern Conference play. The Gators made it three straight over Auburn when they defeated the Tigers 6-2 on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium.

“We played well this weekend and beat a very, very good team and it was just one of those weekends,” O’Sullivan said. “They’ve [Auburn] got a nice club and they’ll be back. This is just one weekend, so we’ll kind of keep things in perspective that way.”

Later, Sullivan added, “This whole league is a battle. You’re looking at Ole Miss next weekend. Every weekend is tough. I do think that you’ve got to take care of your home field advantage and I thought that we did that, but it’s a long season.”

The Southeastern Conference edition of the Kevin O’Sullivan Era got off to a tremendous start with a weekend that saw a triple play, outstanding base running, and solid starting pitching from Billy Bullock, Patrick Keating, and Tommy Toledo. The trio combined for 17.1 innings and allowed exactly two earned runs.  And there is no question that they have yet to reach their peak.

The Tigers (11-8, 0-3) stranded 28 runners during the three-game series. It’s difficult to cash in on those scoring opportunities when the Florida pitchers kept the ball down and the team plays stellar defense. 

Florida (14-3, 3-0) will go head-on into the toughest stretch of the young season with games against fourth-ranked Florida State (12-0) in Gainesville on Tuesday night and a road trip to Oxford against eighth-ranked Ole Miss (13-5, 2-1) next weekend.

Florida got things started Sunday when Avery Barnes led off the bottom of the first with an infield single. He promptly stole second on a called third strike on Matt den Dekker and moved to third when Cole Figueroa’s grounded out at second base.  Clean-up hitter Josh Adams drove him in for the Gators first run with his seventh hit in nine plate appearances in the series.

“I’m seeing the ball really well,” Adams said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the cage this past week and fortunately helping the team out. I’ve been swinging well. Hopefully, that will through the SEC and the entire season. Keep working hard and hopefully good things will happen.”

Adams doubled down the left field line to start things in the bottom of the fourth. He moved to third on McArthur’s ground out to short. Townsend popped out to second for the second out but Justin Pigott hit Luckie’s first pitch just inside the bag at third and down the line for a double to score Adams. Designated hitter Clayton Pisani laced a run scoring single to left field and then stole second.  With Pisani’s steal, the Gators equaled their 2007 total stolen base count of 39. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that have tied last year’s steal total and have had only two runners gunned down. 

Buddy Munroe followed Pisani’s steal by hitting a high fly ball to shallow right field that neither right fielder Mike Bianucci or second baseman Justin Hargett seemed to have in their sights. Hargett dropped the ball and was charged with the error as Pisani scored an unearned run on the play to give Florida a 4-0 lead.

Toledo was pulled after completing six innings and 92 pitches. While he wasn’t especially sharp, working behind in the count more often than he probably would have liked, he had an outstanding Florida defense playing behind him.

“He made pitches when he had to,” O’Sullivan said. “I think that one thing he’s going to have to do a little bit better job of is those leadoff walks. He’s had a couple of outings now where he’s done that a few times. But, overall he puts the ball in play and when does get in a jam, he always one pitch from getting out of it with his sinker and getting a double play. He’s given us four quality starts now, so what elose can you ask from a freshman?”

Toledo allowed two hits, while walking four and striking out two of the 24 Auburn batters he faced. Reliever Clint Franklin came on and pitched three innings, giving up three hits and two unearned runs.

“Today was pretty good,” Toledo said. “All that I was trying to do is get the ball in play and let our defense do the work.  I mean I had four walks, but defensively they played really well. There were a lot of fly outs. Den Dekker had a couple of great plays in the outfield, Townsend at third base, and Buddy caught a good game too. Everybody was playing well the whole way around.”

The Gators found favor in yet another two-out rally, this time in the seventh. In fact, they scored each of their six runs in the game with two outs. Den Dekker singled to second base. Figueroa and Adams walked to load the bases. First baseman Brandon McArthur then singled to center field scoring both den Dekker and Figueroa to give Florida a 6-0 lead. McArthur went 4-for-12 (.333) on the weekend, raising his average to .279 overall.

Auburn attempted a two-out rally in the top of the ninth when Hargett singled to right field. Fletcher singled to left field on a ball that fell between Figueroa and Barnes. Both scored later on a ball that took a high hop for an error by McArthur.

Freshman Josh Adams led Florida offensively hitting 8-for -1 (.727) and six RBIs. Adams hit a home run, three doubles, and scored four runs. He also stole a pair of bases. He is an obvious candidate for Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors. 

Fans can get into McKethan Stadium to see the Gators host Florida State for one dollar this Tuesday night. Left hander Stephen Locke (1-0, 4.30) will get the start for the Gators. Opponents are hitting just .211 against Locke. Cold drinks, hot dogs, and popcorn are also one dollar. 

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.