JACKSONVILLE- Slugger Matt LaPorta belted two home runs and drove in six runs as #22 Florida blasted top ranked Florida State 16-7 before the largest crowd in Florida collegiate baseball history at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
In fact, the Gators launched four home runs tonight. Eleven of the Gators 16 runs were scored as a result of the long ball. LaPorta drove in six runs via the home run, Austin Pride four, and freshman Matt den Dekker one.
Florida’s four home runs ranks as the most against the Seminoles this season. The previous high had been two set in the last meeting between the teams.
LaPorta is on a tear over the past seven games. He has hit in 15 of his last 29 plate appearances with 10 home runs. Unfortunately, the man who can’t miss smiled as he declined to pick my Lotto numbers.
Yes, the Gators (19-13) and ‘Noles (29-3) invaded The First Coast in record numbers. Tonight’s game established a new Sunshine State regular season college baseball record of 12,280. The old record was 8,277 set in 1986 when Miami hosted Texas.
Furthermore, it served as the second largest crowd at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, missing the old mark by some 700 patrons.
“It’s Florida-Florida State,” Florida State head coach Mike Martin said. “That’s all you’ve got to say and they’ll come”
Martin also said that he told Florida head coach Pat McMahon after the game that he likes the adjustments he has made to the Gators lineup. He believes that the Gators are a team to be reckoned with.
Florida took full advantage tonight as they won for the 8^th consecutive time. The Gators secured 11 walks courtesy of Florida State pitching. Meanwhile, they issued seven free passes of their own.
Florida State opened the game with two runs. Shortstop Mark Hallberg ripped a single to left. Catcher Buster Posey then hit a high ball that Florida left fielder Chris Petrie thought he had a play on that carried over the wall for a two-run home run.
Third baseman Jon Townsend got things started with a single to left field. Avery Barnes followed with a single up the middle. Matt LaPorta then moved into sole possession of third place in the Southeastern Conference career home run race with a three run blast over the left field wall.
The Gators struck again in the bottom of the second inning. Matt den Dekker and Hampton Tignor led off the inning grounding out to shortstop. Florida State starter Caleb Graham then issued consecutive walks to Townsend and Barnes.
LaPorta then ripped his 69^th home run of his Florida career- his second three-run shot of the game to lift the Gators to a 6-2 lead. The Florida senior is just 12 home runs shy of former LSU slugger Eddy Funiss’ Southeastern Conference mark of 80.
It didn’t take long for Seminoles coach Mike Martin went to the pen for southpaw Travis Burge.
Figueroa doubled down the right field line off Burge. Leclerc then singled to the middle of the infield. Burge walked Petrie to load the bases. Designated hitter Austin Pride pounded a Grand Slam that sailed well over the left field wall and the Gators jumped out to a 10-2 advantage.
Florida batted around in the second inning. Den Dekker led off with a ground out to shortstop and struck out swinging to end the inning. It was den Dekker’s sixth home run of the year.
The Seminoles picked up three runs in the third inning. Petrie dropped a fly ball by Hallberg that was hit to left-center. Posey followed with a single to give Florida State runners on the corners. Right fielder Jack Rye then punched a run scoring single to left. Florida coach Pat McMahon then went to his bullpen and called on lefty Kevin Chapman.
Designated hitter Dennis Guinn lifted a single to left scoring Posey. Chapman then walked third baseman Jason Stidham to load the bases. Pinch hitter Ruairi O’Connor was struck out by Chapman for the first out of the inning. He got D’Vontrey Richardson and Brandon Reichert with fly balls to den Dekker to end the threat. Florida held on to a 10-5 lead.
The Gators added two more runs in the bottom half of the third. Florida State relief pitcher Casey Whitmer started the inning and promptly walked Tignor. Townsend was then plunked on a 3-2 pitch. Barnes followed by launching a double over the head of Richardson in center field. However, as he raced around second and tried for third he didn’t realize that Florida third base coach Tim Parenton had given Townsend the stop sign. Barnes was caught in a run down trying to get back to second. Tignor scored on the play though. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, LaPorta was intentionally walked. Figueroa drove in Townsend on a fielder’s choice that caught LaPorta at second base. Figueroa moved to second on a passed ball, but Leclerc struck out looking to end the inning. The Gators led after three 12-5.
Florida State loaded the bases in the top of the fourth. However, Chapman pitched out of the and got Stidham to hit a ground ball to LaPorta, who flipped on to Chapman for the put out.
Petrie struck out to start the fourth, but advanced all the way to second base on the play. Pride followed with his second hit of the game, a single to right field. Den Dekker then hit into a fielder choice that scored Petrie to give the Gators a 13-5 lead.
The Seminoles threatened once more in the top of the sixth. The Atlantic Coast Confeence’s leading hitter Tony Thomas (.492) singled to left to start the frame. Florida pitcher Kris Gawriluk walked Hallberg. However, after a visit from pitching coach Ross Jones, Gawriluk settled down and got Posey on an infield fly. Rye punched a ball to Barnes at second. He knocked it down, quickly scooped it up and threw on to Figueroa at second who doubled up Rye on the throw to a stretched out LaPorta for the third out.
Guinn led off the Florida State seventh with a double against the wall in right-center field. Gawriluk then got Stidham to fly out to center field, moving Guinn to third on the play. TommyOravetz followed with a run scoring single to left field. McMahon called on reliever Josh Edmondson who quickly got Richardson to op out to LaPorta in foul territory for the second out of the inning. Reichert singled to drive in Oravetz, which closed the gap to 13-7.
Florida added two more in the bottom of the seventh. Barnes and LaPorta each walked. Figueroa then hit a ball that Florida State shortstop Mark Hallberg threw over the head of Reichert. Barnes easily scored on the play and LaPorta slid into the plate and knocked the ball away from catcher Buster Posey for the Gators 15^th run of the game.
Freshman Matt den Dekker added a solo shot over the left-center monster in the bottom of the eigth to extend the Gators lead to 16-7.
Chapman (2-1) picked up the win for the Gators. FSU starter Caleb Graham (1-2) was saddled with the loss. Both teams pounded out 13 hits apiece. The Seminoles came into the contest with an eye-popping batting average of . 372.
Avery Barnes hit tonight in the two hole and went 3 for 3 and scored three runs. He was also walked three times. Pride went 2 for 4 with four RBI’s and a walk.
Florida (7-2) will play a pivotal three game series against Eastern Division rival #5 South Carolina (5-4) this weekend in Gainesville.