Sophomore Billy Bullock allowed only one run over 6.1 innings to lead Florida over Auburn 7-1 Friday night. Cole Figueroa and Josh Adams combined for five of the Gators nine hits and Brandon McArthur ripped a two-run triple in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Bullock (2-2) gave Florida a much needed Friday night lift. Bullock worked ahead for most of the entire evening. He had only one inning in which he needed more than 11 pitches to close out the Tigers He gave up five hits and walked only one batter, while equaling a career high six strikeouts. Bullock lowered ERA from 3.31 to 2.78. Opponents are hitting only .218 against him.
“He threw the ball well,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “And that’s a real good lineup over there. Two through six they’ve got a chance to hit the ball at any point. The biggest key with a line-up like that is that you have to pitch ahead in the count. If you fall behind and they’ve got a chance to do some damage. So, he (Bullock) pitched ahead and put the ball on the ground and didn’t have a lot of deep counts. He got the leadoff hitter just about every inning. He did a nice job that way.”
Florida (12-3, 1-0) hit Auburn starter Grant Dayton (1-1), in the fourth. Dayton entered the contest with a 0.64 ERA, which rose to 3.79 after he allowed seven runs in five innings. He fanned eight Gators, which did not sit well with Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
“Overall, we struck out twelve times, “O’Sullivan said. “We didn’t make adjustments. You know, we didn’t make adjustments first three innings and we didn’t make adjustments in the last three (innings). We’re going to have to do a better job offensively as far as figuring out what the pitchers are trying to do and get better timing.”
“I thought that we were a little tentative,” he added. “We were taking a lot of first pitch strikes. When you’ve got a strike thrower like that, you’ve got to be aggressive early in the count. Our guys need to make adjustments and put the ball into play with two strikes. I just don’t think that we’re as aggressive as we need to be to be quite honest with you. If their guy is throwing first pitch strikes over, and over, and over. At some point you’ve got to come out there swinging.”
In the top of the second, first baseman Hunter Morris ripped a 3-2 pitch from Bullock and sent it over the right-center field fence. However, Florida center fielder Matt den Dekker sprinted to the fence, leapt high and pulled the ball back into McKethan Stadium for the first out of the frame.
“That’s about as nice as it gets,” O’Sullivan said. “He got a great bead on it and timed it perfectly. I’ll tell you what, we’re very fortunate to have him out in centerfield. And I’ve said all along that he’s as good a centerfielder as I’ve seen. It’s a heck of a catch and hopefully he’ll make some more of those things.”
In the bottom of the fourth, shortstop Cole Figueroa singled up the middle for the Gators first hit of the ball game. He raced home for the Gators lead when Josh Adams followed by ripping a double to the fence through the left-center gap.
“I got all of that ball,” Adams said. “I’ve got to protect Cole (Figueroa) in that four hole. The coaches got me out here and told me that I’d be hitting four hole and I kind of laughed at it, because you’ve got a freshman trying to protect Cole Figueroa. I’m just trying to come out here and help the team out. Just put the ball into play. Things happen when you put the ball into play.”
Den Dekker then beat out a nice bunt down the third base line that gave Florida runners on the corners with none out. Brandon McArthur followed with a fielder’s choice to third that scored Adams. Designated hitter Riley Cooper struck out for the Gators second out of the inning. Third baseman Jon Townsend then turned on a Dayton fastball and deposited it over the left field fence for a two-run shot giving the Gators a 4-0 lead.
“I got a pitch that I could handle and luckily I got hold of it pretty well that way with two outs we could add on to our lead, jump ahead, keep punishing them, and keep going after them,” McArthur said of his two-run triple. “I really didn’t look out there, so I wasn’t trying to hit it over his head. It just so happened to go that way. It was a good game.”
The Gators spotted Bullock with four runs and it certainly pumped him up. He went out in the top of the fifth and needed only ten pitches to retire the side, two of them via the strikeout. Eight of Bullock’s ten pitches went for strikes.
“Yeah, coach really got on me to go out there and put up a zero,” Bullock said. “We don’t want to go out there and give anybody a comeback run, so when we score, we’ve got to put up a zeros right after that. So, that was a big inning. It was a big inning of the ballgame.”
The Florida offense once wasted no time getting things started quickly in the fifth. Leadoff hitter Avery Barnes singled with a bunt down the third base line. Jonathan Pigott followed by dropping a bunt in front of the plate to advance Barnes to second. Fugueroa smashed the first pitch for a double to left-center, scoring Barnes. Adams singled to place runners on the corners. Den Dekker flew out to shirt centerfield. The ball wasn’t deep enough to score Figueroa. But, that hardly mattered this time. First baseman Brandon McArthur launched a ball that carried well over Auburn centerfielder Trent Mummey’s head for a bases clearing triple. Florida led 7-0.
Auburn right fielder Mike Bianucci singled off Bullock to start the seventh inning. It was only the fourth hit allowed by the Florida right hander. Hunter Morris walked on four consecutive pitches to give the Tigers runners two runners for the first time in the game. Two batters later, Kevin Patterson hit a single to right field scoring Bianucci.
O’Sullivan went to the pen and called on right hander Clint Franklin, who closed out the Tigers in the seventh. He also got the Tigers one-two-three in the eighth. Franklin has been very effective coming on as the first guy out to shut things down. He pitched 1.2 no hit, scoreless innings.
Closer Kyle Mullaney came on in the top of the ninth and allowed two hits, but no runs, striking out Brian Fletcher for the final out of the game.
The two squads will meet again tomorrow afternoon. Auburn is expected to start right hander Scott Shurman (2-0, 2.70), while Florida will counter with junior right-hander Patrick Keating (1-0, 2.63). The first pitch is scheduled for 4pm.