Florida handed fifth ranked Georgia their first Southeastern Conference series loss with an emotionally charged 7-2 victory over the Bulldogs before a crowd of 3,271 at McKethan Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Florida (12-9) has the second best conference record in the league.
“I’d say that this has probably been the most emotional game so far,” Florida starter Patrick Keating said. “Georgia’s a really good team and we got a big win last night from (Stephen) Locke. And then today, we stepped it up. This is the kind of game we needed going down the stretch to give us some momentum.”
With the victory, Florida moved to 27-16, 12-9 on the season. They became the first team to take a series from the Bulldogs since defending national champion Oregon State did so on March 2nd. Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 3-1 in Nashville to drop the Commodores to 11-10 in league play. The Gators moved into sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference with a road trip to Columbia, South Carolina on the horizon for next weekend. The Gamecocks lost the Friday and Saturday games to LSU in Baton Rouge this weekend. They were trailing the Sunday game as well.
It is very important that Florida take care of business in their two mid-week games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday night against a very talented Florida Gulf Coast team. One of the reasons the Gators failed to get into the NCAA post-season play last year was because of some key losses in mid-week games. Florida Gulf Coast (29-12) will be wrapping up a 10 day break from action before playing Stetson next weekend.
The Georgia series was huge for Florida.
“Yeah, it was,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said when asked if this was a big one. “It puts us in a better position. Obviously, before the weekend started, now we’re three games up over five-hundred in the league. To beat a team like Georgia, it certainly should give us the confidence to go into a tough stretch of games this week.”
Three, five, and seven were big innings in determining how this game and the series would be decided between these arch enemies. And Florida won them all with true freshman Josh Adams putting the finishing touches on this one with a two-run blast in the eighth.
In the top of the third inning, Michael Demperi hit a hard single up the middle. Florida starter Patrick Keating kept leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel close to the bag with several throws over to first baseman Brandon McArthur, while leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel was at the plate. The Bulldogs had already stolen a base in the first inning off catcher Teddy Foster. The Gators guessed incorrectly on a pitchout, but were on target when Keating fired over to McArthur and they caught Demperi moving toward second base. McArthur fired to shortstop Cole Figueroa, who threw back to McArthur who applied the tag for the easy out. And that play set off a bit of a firestorm. McArthur exchanged pleasantries with Demperio and tried to approach him before being held back by teammates. Coaches and some players stepped up from the Georgia dugout, while the Florida infield ran over to McArthur as the Florida coaches came out as well. Order was rather quickly restored, but there is no question that it fired up both teams and led to more exchanges later in the game..
“It was actually my fault,” McArthur said. “I was kind of in the base line. That’s just the intensity of the game. I told him that if you don’t have that intensity while you’re playing, then you’re not playing the right game.”
Georgia starter Nathan Moreau (1-2) issued back-to-back walks to right fielder Jonathan Pigott and Avery Barnes to start the bottom of the third inning. Second baseman Josh Adams pounded a pitch that was knocked down by Peisel at third, who after picking himself and the ball up and stepped on the bag for the first out. Cole Figueroa followed with a single to left field, loading the bases.
Just as he did in 2005, McArthur continued with his hatred of the Georgia Bulldogs. He ripped ball down the right field line that cleared the bases and allowed him to wheel into second base, despite the injured leg. It would have been a triple had he been full speed. Matt den Dekker flew out to left field for the second out of the inning. McArthur’s hit staked Keating and the Gators a 3-0 lead. Third baseman Jon Townsend didn’t allow things to end there. He drilled a pitch into right field for a run scoring single to give the Gators a 4-0 lead.
“I actually got in trouble a little bit for legging ground balls out that were routine plays,” McArthur said. “Sully just told me to take it easy unless I’m for sure on base. On Friday night for pushing that triple on that ball that I hit into the gap. It’s just wear and tear. I know that it’s something I know that I’m going to have to deal with.”
The Bulldogs got something started in the fifth inning. With one out, Matt Cerione singled to left field. Starter Patrick Keating then walked nine-hole hitter Michael Demperio. Figueroa threw onto Adams at second for the fielder’s choice, giving Georgia runners on the corners. But, Keating struck out Georgia’s Matt Olson after running the count full and watching Olson foul back several pitches. The strikeout ended the Georgia threat.
“He’s consistent,” O’Sullivan said of Keating. “He keeps doing the same things over-and-over. He throws strikes. He struck-out Olson there in a big situation in the middle of the game. I think that he probably knew we were throwing fastball and that we didn’t want to walk him with (Gordon) Beckham on deck. So, he gutted it up and made a big pitch when he needed to and he’s been doing that all year for us.”
“That game was a lot of fun,” Keating said. “To a lot of us it’s the biggest game of the year. We’ve been struggling the past couple SEC weekends. To come out and beat a team like Georgia is going to help us, because we’ve got some tough games this week. We’re going to South Carolina, so this is probably one of the biggest wins of the year for us this year.”
In the seventh, Keating allowed a leadoff single to Allen before issuing his just his second walk of the game to designated hitter Robbie O’Bryan. Cerione doubled to the center field fence, scoring Allen for Georgia’s first run of the game. Then came the play of the day, a stellar double play by right fielder Jonathan Pigott, who caught Demperio’s fly ball, fired the ball online, and made a beautiful throw to the plate, gunning down Robbie O’Bryan as he was racing home after tagging up at third. O’Sullivan went to the bullpen for right-hander Josh Edmondson, who allowed a run-scoring single to Ryan Peisel as Georgia cut the lead to 4-2.
“It looked like déjà-vu from the North Florida game,” catcher Teddy Foster said of Pigott’s throw. “I sat on the plate and he made a nice throw. All that I had to do was to go get it. I turned and he was right there. Our outfielders work their tails off on plays like that, especially since this is the second time. It doesn’t surprise me that we’ haven’t made any errors in three, four, of five games. We work or tails off ground balls, fly balls, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
The battery of Patrick Keating and Teddy Foster was outstanding. Keating (8-0, 2.69) went 6.2 innings and allowed just seven hits and two earned runs, while striking out a career high six. And nothing changed when Josh Edmondson came on in relief and sent the ‘Dawgs packing one, two, three in the eighth and ninth innings.
The Gators scored yet another run in the seventh. Center fielder Matt den Dekker singled on a dribbler just beyond the right side of the mound. He moved to second on Townsend’s walk. Two batter’s later, Foster pounded a single to left-center, scoring den Dekker.
Florida wasn’t finished offensively though. Avery Barnes walked on a 3-1 pitch. And true freshman Josh Adams slammed the door on the Bulldogs with a two-run home run blast that gave the Gators a 7-2 lead.
Cole Figueroa exchanged words with Georgia catcher Bryce Massanari after a ball appeared to go off of Figueroa’s ankle and rolled fair near the pitcher’s mound. Figueroa didn’t run, but Georgia played through as if it were fair. Massanari nearly ran the left-handed hitting Figueroa over to get the ball, which didn’t sit well with Figueroa. The umpire eventually called the ball fair and Figueroa and Massanari had to be restrained. Once again, order was restored, but it served to fire up the Gators.
“No, I don’t know what happened,” O’Sullivan said, “They said that he (Figueroa) and the catcher probably exchanged some words. We’ll find out about it. I know they’re (Georgia) coached well and I know we’re coached well. Sometimes in the heat of the battle, people say and do things they wish they’d hadn’t. We’ll address it, but those things sometimes happen.”
Clayton Pisani batted for McArthur, who sits to rest his knee after the seventh. Pisani singled to center field and promptly stole second base. However, Florida was unable to bring him home.
“I think that anytime you get challenged a little bit, you’ve got to respond,” O’Sullivan stated. “But, we certainly don’t condone leaving the benches and stuff like that. We’re not going to put up with that. But, I did like (Clayton) Pisani had a good at-bat, got a base hit, and stole second. In that way, yeah, but not leaving the bench, no.”
Cerione struck out to end the game in the top of the ninth and immediately began yelling at the umpire and seemingly the Florida players. He was restrained by his teammates. The umpires got between the two squads, but they did not shake hands after the ball game. That was seemingly best decision as several Georgia players were not impressed as the Gators shook hands and celebrated. There was no question this loss shook Georgia.
“I think that there had been tension building all game between a lot of the players, not just the last batter,” Foster said. “They had some choice words when they struck out and we had some choice words when we didn’t have pitches going our way. It happens in baseball. People get upset. It was the first loss for them in a series. They’re going to be down. They’re going to be a little angry. I thought that he took it to a different level with some of the words that he chose. It was all in good sportsmanship. It wasn’t directed at the umpire, which is what I was hoping that he wouldn’t do. The umpire had a rough game. Both sides were barking at him. The fans were barking at him. Everyone had their opinion of which pitch was a strike and which pitch was a ball. I think that he did a great job and I give him credit for handling that game the way that he did.”
It was Florida’s sixth win (Miami, Florida State, Ole Miss (2), and Georgia (2)) over a top five opponent this season.
“It was a lot of fun, especially when you get to come out with a W,” Foster concluded. “The first time that you take a series from the SEC leading team, it’s a great momentum swing for us. This is the turning point of the season when we turn it around and make our move in the SEC hopefully.”
The Gators will play on Tuesday and Wednesday night at McKethan Stadium against Florida Gulf Coast. Both games start at 6:30pm.