Gators triumph over FSU, 5-4

Florida (21-19) halted No. 1 Florida State’s (35-5) home winning streak at 30 games with a 5-4 triumph in front of season-high 6,574 fans at Dick Howser Stadium on Wednesday night. The victory enabled the Gators to capture the regular-season series from both the Seminoles and Miami (Fla.) in the same campaign for the first time since 1996 and marked FSU’s first loss at home since May 20, 2006 (15-7 to N.C. State).

Senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) was a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBI and UF’s bullpen kept the high-powered Florida State offense off the scoreboard over the final three innings. Senior Kris Gawriluk (Deltona, Fla.) notched his first win and classmate David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.) collected his fourth save by recording the final six outs.

Leclerc provided the Gators with a quick 2-0 lead with his second homer of the year in the opening frame. Senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) drew a two-out walk from sophomore Bo O’Dell (3-1) and Leclerc followed with a shot over the fence in right center.

The Seminoles answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning. Junior Tony Thomas, Jr., the nation’s leading hitter with a .467 average, roped a leadoff double to the center-field wall and was sacrificed over by junior Mark Hallberg. A wild pitch by sophomore Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) enabled Thomas to come across to cut UF’s lead in half.

Sophomore Mark Gildea greeted Gawriluk in the second with his first homer to even the game at 2-2. Locke allowed three hits and a run in his lone inning of action. 

Florida erupted for three runs on four hits and an error in the third to seize a 5-2 advantage. Junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.) started things off with a base-hit up the middle and freshman Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.) earned a base on balls. LaPorta extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a double down the left-field line to move past Ben Harrison into second all-time on the Gators’ career list with his 194th RBI. Leclerc ripped a single into center field that brought across Figueroa and a fielding error on the play also allowed LaPorta to score. O’Dell retired the next two hitters before sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) chased him with a two-bagger to left. Freshman reliever Matt Fairel stranded the runners by having sophomore Jared Kubin (Oakton, Va.) fly out to right.

FSU filled the sacks in the bottom of the frame but was held at bay. Sophomore Buster Posey singled with one down and advanced to third on senior Travis Anderson’s two-out flare into right center. Senior Steven Porter (Ocoee, Fla.) was called from the bullpen to replace Gawriluk (1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R) and issued a walk to rookie Jason Stidham that loaded the bases. The southpaw bounced back with a strikeout of Gildea to end the stanza.

A two-out single to center in the fourth by Hallberg narrowed the Seminoles’ deficit to 5-3. Freshman D’Vontrey Richardson was hit by a pitch to begin the inning and advanced to second on a fly ball to center by Thomas. After Hallberg’s base-knock, Posey walked on four pitches for two runners aboard. Junior Jack Rye launched a ball to deep center that freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) tracked down with a full sprint and a leaping grab against the center-field wall. 

Thomas legged out a bunt with one out in the sixth off freshman Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) and moved into scoring position with his 20th stolen base. Thomas swiped third and came home when Townsend mishandled the relay from Neer to make the count 5-4. After Hallberg drew a walk and Posey laid down a perfect bunt to the left of the plate, Chapman induced a pop-up in foul territory by Rye and fanned Anderson to work out of the jam.

UF’s bid to pad its lead by loading the bases in the seventh came up empty. Leclerc drew a one-out walk from sophomore Jimmy Marshall and went to second on senior Austin Pride’s (Longwood, Fla.) grounder. After an intentional walk to den Dekker and a free pass to Neer filled the bags, senior Luke Tucker came in and caught Kubin looking on strikes to hold the margin at 5-4.

Sophomore Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) replaced Chapman (2.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 K) prior to the seventh and permitted a one-out walk to Gildea. The right-hander was called for a balk to push the runner into scoring position and den Dekker then made another spectacular catch at the warning catch to rob freshman pinch hitter Ohmed Danesh of potential extra bases. Following a walk to senior Brandon Reichert, Keating froze Thomas on strike three to bring FSU’s runners left on base total to 12.

The Gators turned an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to preserve the one-run advantage in the eighth. Posey and Rye roped back-to-back one-out singles off Hurst to bring the crowd to its feet. Soon after, the lefty had Anderson ground out to Townsend, who fired to freshman Clayton Pisani (Naples, Fla.) to force Rye at second and then over to LaPorta to squash the potential rally.

LaPorta and Leclerc welcomed senior Brian Chambers with consecutive singles to start the ninth and Florida State pulled the reliever in favor of junior Danny Rosen. A wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position before senior Chris Petrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) went down on strikes. FSU elected to walk den Dekker intentionally for the second time and Rosen whiffed Neer and Kubin to put out the fire. Hurst retired the hosts in order to end the game.

Florida State held a slim 12-11 advantage in hits and the clubs combined to strand 25 runners. Leclerc’s four hits matched a career high and LaPorta registered his team-leading 18th multiple-hit game. Posey finished 3-for-4 and four other Seminoles had two hits apiece. The Gators will return to McKethan Stadium for a pivotal SEC weekend series against defending league co-champion Kentucky. UF is 8-7 in conference play, while the Wildcats are 6-8-1.