For several weeks’ the Gators’ pitching has been a big fat question mark. This weekend the Florida starters answered with an exclamation mark. Today, junior Bryan Augenstein hurled eight outstanding innings, allowing just five hits in the Gators 9-3 victory. Augenstein struck out ten Alabama batters.
Florida starters (Kyle Mullaney and Augenstein) have combined to pitch 15.1 innings and have allowed just four runs. Most importantly- they’ve notched two victories.
“It was awesome,” third baseman Jon Townsend said of Florida’s starting pitching. “It takes so much pressure off the offense when you know you’ve got a guy really working hard. Not they haven’t been working hard. They have all season, but the past couple of days, they’ve been dominating. It makes it so much easier on the hitters. You can go up there relaxed.”
There was a 49 minute rain delay with two runners on and one out in the bottom of the eighth for Florida.
Offensively, this was a team victory as nine different Florida batters picked up at least one hit. The Gators ripped 13 hits off Crimson Tide pitching. Alabama starter Miers Quigley allowed seven hits and five earned runs in 4.2 innings. Reliever Casey Kebodeaux wasn’t any better. He allowed three hits and two earned runs in just one inning. The Crimson Tide tried Patrick Kelly, who Florida abused for three hits and two earned runs in just 1.2 innings of work.
Florida had no such problem. Augenstein (5-5) threw 116 pitches and yes, he was on.
As he exited the field after striking out Jake Smith for the final out in the to of the eighth, Florida pitching coach Ross Jones greeted Augenstein with a chest bump. It was well-deserved.
“I had stuff working and threw it in the strike zone,” Augenstein said afterward. “I’m not used to getting down like I have the past few weeks. It was good for my confidence. Basically, just doing what any pitcher needs to do to be successful, throw the ball in the strike zone and let my defense play behind me.”
He allowed Alabama first baseman Matt Bentley a lead off home run that remained just inside the foul pole down the right field line to start the second. He retired 11 consecutive batters until a one out single in the sixth.
After Bentley’s blast, the Gators (25-23, 12-11) answered with a pair of home runs themselves. Austin Pride, making the start at first base in place of Matt LaPorta took Quigley’s first offering over the right field wall. Pride’s hit was a towering ball that just just a few feet inside the foul pole into the Palm trees. Catcher Cody Neer followed with a single, but was caught off the bag and thrown out at second base. Jonathan Pigott followed with a home run over the left field fence that gave the Gators a 2-1 lead.
Shortstop Cole Figueroa led off the third with a walk after working the count full. He moved to second on a wild pitch. Third baseman Jon Townsend blasted a 1-2 pitch into the left field bleachers to stake the Gators a 4-1 lead.
“It was fun and we got the W,” Townsend said. “It was a fastball. He just about beat me to it. I had to just throw my hands and try not to let it get in there too much. Luckily, I got a good piece of the bat.”
“I’ve been working a little bit,” Townsend said. “I’ve been trying to do a little bit too much when I’ve been hitting. At this level you can only be satisfied with what you can do. So, I’ve been trying to stay within myself and not trying to do to much at the plate. I hope that I can keep it going.”
He said that since his move from leadoff in the lineup he has noticed a big difference with guys on base.
Figueroa and Clayton Pisani led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Brian Leclerc moved them over with a ground ball to first base. Townsend then hit a fly ball to right field that scored Figueroa. Quigley then hit Pride and Neer in order before he was sent to the showers by Alabama head coach Jim Wells. Casey Kebodeaux came on and got Pigott to pop the ball up near third for the final out of the inning stranding three.
Pinch hitter Bryson Barber led off the sixth with a sharp single up the middle. Matt den Dekker followed by stroking a single into left field. However, just as they had the inning before Bama recorded two outs. The outcome was different this time. Senior Brian Leclerc fought off several pitches before lacing a double to left, scoring Barber and den Dekker, who slid under the catchers mitt onto the plate in time to beat the throw. Florida led 7-1.
The defensive play of the game occurred in the seventh. With two outs, Brandon Belcher ripped a 1-1 pitch that appeared heading for the middle. Florida shortstop Cole Figueroa dove for the ball, knocked it down, and quickly gathered it up. The freshman fired the ball to Pride at first just beating Belcher to the bag.
With one out in the eighth, Figueroa doubled to left field. Pisani followed with a single and play was halted for the lightning delay. Alabama went with reliever Brian Griggs, who promptly threw his first delivery into the dirt scoring Figueroa. Townsend flew out to right field, which allowed Pisani to score giving the Gators a 9-2 lead.
Florida went with right hander Patrick Keating in the top of the ninth. Bama pieced together two hits and a Florida error to score a run making the final 9-3.
Florida will go for the sweep tomorrow.