Wednesday’s second game of a doubleheader had a promotion known around the ballpark as baseball bingo. Participants use a card and cross off every action the Gators accomplish on the field, including doubles, stolen bases and walks, until they get four in a row. When the first winner of baseball bingo was crowned in the very first inning, the Eastern Michigan Eagles should have packed up and returned north. The Gator bats stayed hot to a 16-8 victory in front of an attendance of 2,363.
“Are you serious? The first inning isn’t even over yet.”
These words rang through the press box Wednesday night as the Gators put five runs on the board. Hot starts were a theme Wednesday as the Gators held a 9-1 lead after the second inning in both games of the doubleheader.
“Anytime you get two games back-to-back and you get leads like we had, it should take some pressure off the pitching,” O’Sullivan said. “You can win a game in the first, second or third. Every inning is important. Obviously jumping out to a big lead takes the pressure off everybody.”
The first two innings the pressure was off the Gator pitching staff. Freshman Travis Lawler got the start on the mound, but his appearance could’ve been better. He worked himself into trouble during the first inning, but recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end bases loaded jam. His second inning accuracy hurt him, as he loaded the bases with two batters hit by pitches and a single. He then allowed the first run to score when he walked first baseman Steve Bradshaw, before getting a fly out to end the inning. Lawler ended the game with 2.2 innings pitched, eight hits and five earned runs.
“That’s just freshman stuff,” O’Sullivan said. “They kind of overthrow, they drop their arm angle and the ball takes off on them. If he stays back, gets the arm angle up and gets the ball more downhill, he’ll be fine. It’s freshman jitters.
“He’s certainly shown flashes. He’s got a good arm. Bases loaded in the first and he punches out two guys in a row. We’ll run him right back out there. They all go through it. You just hope that when they go through it you’re still able to win the ballgame.”
The work from the bullpen to relieve Lawler was outstanding. JK LaCoste, Clint Franklin, Tony Davis, Billy Bullock and Josh Edmondson combined for 6.1 innings, giving up zero earned runs and ten strikeouts. O’Sullivan said the plan was to get the relievers some work in the game to get them ready for this weekend’s series at Miami.
“The second game here wasn’t as pretty as we’d liked,” O’Sullivan said. “But we won the ballgame and we got every pitcher in there just about. We’re fresh and everyone is now ready to go for the weekend.”
The Gator bats were hot enough Wednesday night that a Gainesville YMCA league pitching staff could’ve won the game. The first major strike came in the first inning from a freshman who is becoming quite a familiar name. Josh Adams stroked a bases loaded double down the right field line to score three runs and give the Gators an early advantage.
Leadoff hitter Avery Barnes energized the attack from the very beginning. He batted in each of the first four innings, and was on base three of those four times. He later put an exclamation point on the game with a two-run homerun in the eighth inning. Barnes finished the game 3-5 and scored four of the Gators 16 runs.
Barnes and second baseman Clayton Pisani set the table Wednesday for the middle of the order to drive them in. The two hitters combined to go 4-9 in the second game and made it impossible for Eastern Michigan pitchers to pitch around Gator shortstop Figueroa. He went 2-3, with two walks and three RBIs.
“I feel good up there,” Figueroa said. “I’m just seeing the ball real well right now and hopefully it continues. A lot of the guys are swinging it well right now. I didn’t expect us to come out and score as many runs as we have. Guys are taking good approaches up there right now.”
The Gators continued their running ways with five stolen bases Wednesday night. The team now has 22 stolen bases, compared to the 39 the tallied through all of last season. Even though they play Miami this weekend with much better catchers and pitchers, they will continue to put runners in motion.
“We want to be aggressive and put pressure on the defense,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s been a point of emphasis and we’ve been stressing it since day one. We’ve got to do what our strength is. We’re going to run this weekend against Miami too.”
Figueroa says that he attributes the hot start with the bats to what the Gators are doing on the bases.
“We’re stealing a lot more and getting a lot of guys on base to make the pitcher uncomfortable,” Figueroa said. “I think it’s allowing the guys at home plate to see more pitches. We’re all getting a lot better pitches to swing at.”
The team’s focus now turns down south to the Miami Hurricanes. The Gators have won seven of the last nine games in the rivalry, and Coach O’Sullivan is looking forward to trying to continue to recent trend.
“They’re good, there’s no question,” O’Sullivan said. “I think this is one of the better teams they’ve had. Top to bottom, they’ve got speed, power, pitching and they’ve got a guy at the end of the ballgame they feel good about. It’s going to be a challenge for us. There are a lot of left handed hitters in that lineup and we’re a predominantly right handed pitching staff. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’ll be good to get on the road for the first time. It’ll give us a good grasp of where we’re at right now.”
The Gators will travel to play the Miami Hurricanes Friday night at 7:00 at Mark Light Stadium. Florida will start Kyle Mullaney against Miami’s Eric Erickson. O’Sullivan said the Gators will use the same rotation as last weekend, with Patrick Keating pitching Saturday and Tommy Toledo on Sunday.
Notes: The Gators have three regulars batting over .500 right now in Cole Figueroa (.533), Brandon McArthur (.500) and Jonathan Pigott (.500)… The Gators also have two regulars batting .100 or lower in Hampton Tignor (.100) and Jon Townsend (.067).