Junior Stephen Locke (3-2, 3.21 ERA) pitched a complete game gem against the top team in the Southeastern Conference, while sophomore Matt den Dekker was just too much offensively as Florida (26-16, 11-9 SEC) whipped Georgia 7-2 before a crowd of 3,343 at McKethan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Locke was sharp from the first pitch through the ninth, hitting his spots as he worked with catcher Teddy Foster to register his first career complete game. Georgia (29-13, 15-4-1 SEC) came into the game with an 8-4 record against left-handers.
The Gators backed up Locke with tremendous defense. Second baseman Josh Adams had nine assists and four put-outs. The left side of the defense was also very sharp with shortstop Cole Figueroa and third baseman scooping up everything that came their way. Outfielders den Dekker, Avery Barnes and Jonathan Pigott also played error-free baseball.
And, what else can be said about senior first baseman Brandon McArthur that hasn’t already been written? McArthur, who is playing on an injured knee, hobbled through Saturday and did a fine job reaching for balls that were just a half-step off-line. He was replaced in the eighth inning to rest his ailing knee.
“We had a good game today,” Locke said. “We bounced back from last night and got the lead early. They played good defense behind me. I think that I only had two strikeouts, so that tells you they played good defense behind me.”
Locke and the Florida defense thwarted the Bulldogs in the first inning — an inning Georgia has dominated since conference play began, outscoring their opponents 57-19. Saturday, Locke got Ryan Peisel and Matt Olson to ground out before striking out Dick Howser Watch List candidate Gordon Beckham in the first inning.
“Probably the biggest key to the game was getting off to a good start in the first inning,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I think that he (Locke) went 1-2-3 in the first and set the tone and kept them off-balance. He threw strikes and didn’t walk people. I also thought Teddy Foster did an outstanding job. You know, he catches Stephen when he goes to the mound. They’ve been together for four years and he has a real good feel for what they can do. They stay with his strength and he deserves as much credit as Stephen today.”
Den Dekker put in a terrific effort as the offensive catalyst today hitting in the six hole. He was a perfect three-for-three.
“He had three hits and he put the ball on the ground,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re trying to use his speed as much as possible. They don’t have to hit three-run homers all the time, although they’re good to get. If he can put the ball on the ground, especially on the left side of the infield, he’s got a chance to beat out any ball. He had a couple of stolen bases and was aggressive and that probably had a little to do with forcing the issue defensively with them. Anytime that you apply pressure on the bases it forces guys to make errors and hopefully make errors and for us it worked out today.
Florida (26-16, 11-9) got on the scoreboard first. With one out in the second inning, den Dekker singled through the left side then promptly stole second and third’s, all with Jon Townsend at the plate. Townsend’s grounder to third base scored den Dekker to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
The Gators exploded in the bottom of the fourth. Josh Adams and Cole Figueroa started things off with back-to-back singles. McArthur laid down a nice sacrifice bunt that moved both base runners into scoring position. Georgia starter Stephen Dodson (5-2, 3.99) then intentionally walked den Dekker to load the bases and create the force.
It might have seemed like good strategy but it backfired.
Townsend ripped a double to the right-center field gap, scoring both Adams and Figueroa. Den Dekker who advanced to third and then he came home on a passed ball that got away from Georgia catcher Bryce Massanari. Designated hitter Bryson Barber followed with a double that scored Townsend for a 5-0 lead.
“He’s good,” Georgia head coach David Perno said of den Dekker. “He can really steal those bases and play that defense. He’s an offensive threat. I really like him … he’s a great player.”
Georgia (29-13, 15-4-1) finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth when Lyle Allen led off with single, but was erased on a 6-4-3 double play by the Florida defense. However, the Bulldogs were able to collect back-to-back singles by eight hole hitter Matt Cerione and nine hole hitter Michael Demperio. Leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel added a single that scored Cerione for the Dogs first run.
The Gators answered in the bottom half of the inning and even added an insurance run. Perno called on left-hander Justin Earls from the bullpen, which only served to please the Rowdy Reptiles, who call out every opposing pitcher with chants of “Earl!”
Earl’s poor outing gave him two reasons to wish that he’d remained in the pen.
He walked Avery Barnes on four consecutive pitches. Barnes quickly moved to second on a wild pitch. He also walked Adams on four pitches. Figueroa moved them over with a nice sacrifice bunt. McArthur then hit a ball to center field that allowed Barnes to score. Den Dekker singled once again, bouncing a ball into right field that caught the second baseman by surprise with a bad hop. The second baseman made an errant throw which scored Adams and increase Florida’s lead to 7-1.
The Bulldogs scored in the eighth on Beckham’s 20th home-run of the season, which leads the nation. It was a solo shot that cut the Gators lead to 7-2.
GAME NOTES: Several Florida players came out early to take additional batting practice and ground balls. Last night’s game must have definitely left a sour taste in their mouths.
The Eastern Division rivals will take to the field tomorrow afternoon for the deciding game in the series. The Gators have a rested bullpen, which is a huge plus for a team with limited numbers on the mound. Georgia will send left-hander Nathan Moreau (1-1, 4.50) to the mound, while Florida will send right-hander Patrick Keating (7-0, 2.68) to the hill. Opponents are hitting .243 against Moreau. They are hitting at a .290 clip against Keating.