Locke goes distance, Gators even series

TUSCALOOSA, AL — Junior Stephen Locke (4-2) pitched the second complete game of his career Saturday to help 22nd-ranked Florida (30-19/14-12 SEC) to a 6-2 win over Alabama (29-23/13-13 SEC) at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Locke scattered seven hits and gave up one earned run, using just 96 pitches as the Gators evened up the weekend series at a game apiece.

The victory moved Florida into fourth in the race for the SEC Tournament, just ahead of Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina, who are all 13-13.

Brandon McArthur and Matt den Dekker each had three hits as Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators exceeded their win total from last season.

Florida took care of business from the get go Saturday. The Gators jumped on Austin Hyatt (3-4) for two runs and four hits in the first inning. McArthur ripped his ninth double and Josh Adams poked a two-out single to open the scoring. Adams moved into scoring position with his 10th stolen base and went to third on an infield hit by den Dekker. Jon Townsend came through with an RBI single to stake the Gators to a 2-0 lead.

Helped by a defensive lapse by the Gators, the Crimson Tide cut the deficit in half in the third inning. Alex Kubal, who got Bama’s first hit of the afternoon off Locke, was caught off base with two down in the inning. However, Townsend dropped the relay throw to keep the inning alive. Ross Wilson singled through the right side and advanced to second on the relay to give Alabama runners on second and third. Kubal scored on a wild pitch that moved Wilson to third, but Locke enticed Brandon May ground out to end the inning.

In the fourth, Florida’s Teddy Foster cranked his second homer of the season with one out to increase the Gators’ lead to 3-1.  The blast landed in the trees overlooking the left-field fence.

Florida added a run in the fifth when Bryson Barber delivered a clutch two-out double off Alabama reliever Jimmy Nelson. Den Dekker got things going for the Gators with a one-out single. After a Townsend ground out, den Dekker stole third, his 17th consecutive stolen base. Barber then rocked a 3-2 pitch into left center for his fourth two-bagger.

In the bottom of the fifth, Alabama used an RBI double down the left-field line by Kubal to drive home Kyle Moore to close the gap to 4-2. Locke pitched himself out of further trouble when Josh Rutledge lined into an inning-ending double play.

The Gators added some insurance in the eighth thanks to an Alabama error. With Barnes at third and McArthur on first, Cole Figueroa hit a ground ball to first that senior Matt Bentley misplayed, enabling Barnes to score.

Rutledge later established an Alabama freshman record with a two-out single in the eighth that kept his hitting streak alive at 28 games. 

Riley Cooper provided the final margin of victory with a two-out single in the ninth that drove home Townsend.

Eight of Florida’s nine starters had at least one hit as the Gators out-hit the Tide, 12-7.

The Gators will try to clinch the series Sunday when Patrick Keating (8-0, 3.22 ERA) goes against Alabama righty Robert Phares (2-3, 5.91). The contest will be shown live on CSS at 2 p.m. 

(The University of Florida Sports Information Department contributed to this report)