Cooper catches on in baseball, too

Riley Cooper has already made a name for himself at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Now he’s doing it at McKethan Stadium. With one loud swing Wednesday night, Cooper launched reliever Corey Chaffins’ first pitch far over the left-field bleachers for a grand slam, helping the Gators to a 17-6 victory before a crowd of 2,143.

“I wasn’t sitting on one pitch, just trying to find something to drive,” Cooper said. “He hung a breaking ball and I put a good swing on it. I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it.”

Matt den Dekker led off the fifth inning with a perfectly placed drag bunt to reach first. After Adams struck out swinging, Brandon McArthur coaxed a walk. Preston Tucker advanced both runners on a fielder’s choice, and Clayton Pisani drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs.

After a pitching change, Cooper did his damage. Buddy Munroe followed with a single, and moved to third on Mike Mooney’s single to right field. Mooney got in a rundown trying to steal, allowing Munroe to score, giving the Gators a 9-5 lead after five innings. The Gators had 10 extra-base hits in the two-game series.

“That was one of those no-doubters,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Cooper’s blast. “I’m not sure how far it went, but if he says he didn’t get all of it, he’s lying.”

The Cooper grand slam gave the Gators some breathing room after innings of frustration. Freshman Anthony DeSclafani started the game for the Gators and struggled from the beginning. After a leadoff strikeout in the first inning, he gave up back-to-back singles to Jim Gulliver and Zack Leonard. Matt Skirving flew out to left field and scored Gulliver. It was the first run allowed by the Florida pitching staff in 17 1/3 innings.

“We’ve thrown the ball across the plate,” O’Sullivan said. “Even though we’ve given up a lot of hits, we only walked three people. The most important thing is putting the ball in play. We’re aggressive and not misfiring a lot. I’m sure Anthony would like a few pitches back, but that’s what happens. We have up a lot of hits, but you don’t try to over-pitch when you’ve got a big lead. You attack with fastballs and that’s what we did.”

After Eastern Michigan scored in the top of the first, the Gators fought back to tie the game. Avery Barnes led off the first inning by belting the Gators’ first home run of the season. It was the first leadoff home run since March 25, 2006, when Gavin Dickey did it for the Gators. Den Dekker followed with a line-drive single into center field and scored when Adams tripled down the right-field line. Adams then scored on a passed ball by the catcher. McArthur singled up the middle and moved to second when Tucker singled into right field for the Gators’ fifth consecutive hit to start the game. McArthur moved to third base on a Pisani fly ball to center field and scored on a passed ball to give the Gators a 4-1 lead.

However, DeSclafani’s struggles continued in the third inning. With two outs, he walked Matt Skirving, followed by back-to-back singles by Andrew Marshall and Aaron Powell. Johnny Crooks then came through with the big blast, belting a grand slam off the scoreboard behind right field and giving the Eagles a 5-4 lead.

The Gators continued to pile on the runs in the sixth inning. Barnes and den Dekker combined for back-to-back walks to lead off the inning. Adams singled into left field to load the bases. McArthur hit a dribbling ground ball to first base, where the only play was to step on the base and let a run score. Tucker then doubled down the left field line, scoring den Dekker and Adams. Pisani followed with a single up the middle to score Tucker. Cooper then beat out a weakly hit ground ball to third base for an infield single before Munroe blasted a three-run home run to left field, giving the Gators a 16-5 lead after six innings.

Den Dekker went 3-5 Wednesday night, after coming into the game .154 batting average. He left the victory after boosting his average to .278.

“I didn’t feel like I was in a slump,” Den Dekker said. “I just had to make a few adjustments. It was definitely a boost of confidence.”

The Gator bullpen also got some much-needed experience. After DeSclafani’s three innings, Kevin Chapman went 2.1 innings, giving up two hits and no runs. Billy Bullock came in next for 2/3 of an inning, allowing one hit and no runs. Freshman Greg Larson followed with one inning and one hit allowed. Chas Spottswood came in for the eighth inning and allowed three hits and one run but controlled the damage nicely. Jeff Barfield closed the game with one inning, allowing only one hit and two strikeouts. The bullpen was a team effort Wednesday night, and it’s something the head coach feels will benefit his club.

“We got a lot of guys on the mound,” O’Sullivan said. “We got a lot of guys with their feet wet. It’s good to see Kevin Chapman come out tonight. He got the game ball. He did a really nice job and settled things down for us in the middle innings. That’s what you want in games like this.”

The Gators play host to the Miami Hurricanes this weekend. First pitch on Friday night is scheduled for 6:30. Florida will start last week’s SEC Pitcher of the Week Patrick Keating (1-0, 2.57) against Miami ace and preseason All-American Chris Hernandez (1-0, 1.50).

Tune in to Gator Country TV Thursday night at 9 p.m. for a breakdown of the Miami series, as well as highlights from the games over the last week.