True freshman Kyle Mullaney kept the Alabama offense in check with 7.1 strong innings of work, while catcher Cody Neer provided the power with a pair of home runs, as Florida defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 6-2 at McKethan Stadium on Friday night.
Mullaney (3-1) mixed his pitches and demonstrated outstanding control throughout the game. The Jacksonville native got into a jam in the fourth when he gave up a leadoff single to Matt Bartley. Alabama right fielder Brandon Belcher then reached on an error by second baseman Avery Barnes. Jake Smith followed with a fly ball to center field that was deep enough for Bartley to score. Mullaney plunked Kyle Moore on a 1-1 count.
However, he remained assertive and beautifully got the next two Alabama batters to fly out, ending the threat.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Mullaney said of the fourth. “It just made me realize that if I throw strikes and let them put it in play that they’re going to make plays and that’s what they did. I didn’t strike anybody out tonight. I wasn’t overpowering anybody. I was just trying to let them hit the ball and let the defense make plays.”
The right hander followed that with an impressive string of nine consecutive outs before he tired in the eighth after throwing 96 pitches. Mullaney exited to an arousing standing ovation and gently tipped his hat as he was receiving congratulations from his teammates.
“I thought that was a key component, because Alabama is an outstanding offensive club,” McMahon said. “They’ll really will make runs at you and you have to pitch through and defend through those runs. As a result of that, I thought that he (Mullaney) located his pitches and made some quality pitches in those situations.”
Neer led the Gators scoring parade with a solo shot in the second inning that easily cleared the 365 mark in left center. He hit another ball that practically mimicked his first in location and distance in the fourth inning. This time, however, left fielder Chris Petrie was already aboard after a leadoff double. The Gators led 3-1.
“It looked real big,” Neer said of the baseball as it came over the plate. “It felt good. I shortened my swing up a lot. That helped me a lot. I spent a lot of time this past week in the batting cages. I was just long missing pitches in the zone.”
“Cody worked a lot extra on his swing this week around the exam schedule,” McMahon stated. “When Cody has strike zone discipline- he’s really learning and has worked hard to be a good hitter from that perspective. The ballpark played big tonight as you well know. He hit those balls well and did a great job. Those runs were so important.”
Florida (24-23, 11-11) scored another run in the fifth. Third baseman Jon Townsend led off the frame with a triple down the right field line. He scored on designated hitter Bryson Barber’s sacrifice fly.
Barnes led of the Florida sixth with a double. One out later, LaPorta was intentionally walked. Barnes later scored on Leclerc’s ground out to second. LaPorta scored on Townsend’s single to right field, but it almost played out disastrous.
LaPorta was intentionally walked three times. As LaPorta rounded third heading for the plate on Townsend’s single, he fell to the ground and grabbed his quadricep muscle. Oddly, Alabama right fielder Ryan Rhoden held onto the ball, seemingly unaware that LaPorta had fallen and unaware of who to throw the ball in to. LaPorta got up and hobbled home for the Gators sixth run.
He had to leave the game though and was immediately taken to the trainers area after exiting the field. Head coach Pat McMahon said after the game that he wasn’t sure about the extent of the injury.
The Crimson Tide loaded the bases in the eighth and McMahon went to the bullpen for closer David Hurst. He allowed one of the runs to score on Belcher’s sacrifice fly to left field, but secured the final out of the inning. Hurst allowed two singles in the ninth, but none scored.
Alabama dropped to 26-21, 10-12 in the SEC.
The teams will square off tomorrow at 4pm. Alabama is expected to start southpaw Miers Quigley (4-4, 3.72) against right hander Bryan Augenstein (4-5, 6.35).