Florida’s 8-5 come from behind Friday night win over LSU before a McKethan Stadium crowd of 4,531 was more than just a Southeastern Conference victory. It was a nice character builder, something Coach Kevin O’Sullivan thinks the Gators needed.
“We counted it up and I think we’d been in ahead in ten straight games,” O’Sullivan said after the Gators (19-5) improved to 6-1 in the SEC. “This was an important win for us. We showed some character.”
For six innings the Gators were kept in check by LSU’s starter, lefty Blake Martin, whose only slip-ups were solo home runs by Cole Figueroa and Matt den Dekker.
“He kept us off balance,” O’Sullivan said. “He did a nice job. Our swings were really long. He controlled the tempo for most of the game.”
Martin left after six innings of a two run, four hit performance, and LSU handed the ball to Jared Bradford, their workhorse from last season, a 2007 second team All-SEC selection and a 2008 Golden Spikes Award candidate. His outing Friday night didn’t exactly help his statistics.
The Gators greeted Bradford with five straight hits on his first 13 pitches. Dustin Bamberg started the inning with a standup double and John Townsend followed with a single through the right side of the infield to advance Bamberg to third. Brandon McArthur lined a 1-2 pitch into left-center field to score Bamberg and move Townsend to third. McArthur advanced to second on the throw. Den Dekker tied the game on an infield single to score Townsend and Buddy Munroe followed by delivering the knockout punch as he hit an inside fastball on a line into the left field bleachers for a three-run homerun and a 7-4 Gator lead. Jonathan Pigott delivered a one-out single up the middle, and reached third on a single to short left field by Figueroa. Figueroa stole second on a pitch out, and when the throw sailed into center field, Pigott scored easily.
In the seventh inning, the Gators had a season-best seven hits for one inning but the big blow was obviously the home run by Munroe.
“I was looking for something that would let me pop something into the deep outfield,” Munroe said. “I was just trying to get the sac fly. I turned on it and got a good piece of it.”
Florida starter Billy Bullock went seven innings, giving up four runs (two earned) and three strikeouts.
“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Bullock said. “I made a few bad pitches but the guys picked me up.”
Bullock didn’t have the dominant stuff he showed last Friday night at Ole Miss, but showed toughness by battling through some situations.
“I thought he battled through it,” O’Sullivan said. “It was not one of his best nights, but that’s the mark of a true number one. He keeps you in the ballgame. That was one of the better pitched games against us, and (Billy) kept us in there.”
After a quick eighth inning for Gator reliever Clint Franklin, there was trouble in the ninth. Derek Helenihi started the inning with a sharp single off, followed by three-hole hitter Blake Dean reaching on a walk. Matt Gaudet followed by reaching on a fielder’s choice with Figueroa tagged out Helenihi. Tony Davis entered the game in relief of Franklin and threw one pitch, a single into right field by Clark to load the bases. That brought on Josh Edmondson, who got Sean Ochinko to hit a ground ball to third baseman Jon Townsend. Townsend stepped on third for one out but his throw to first sailed past Brandon McArthur, allowing one run to score. Edmondson ended the game by striking out Leon Landry.
“It was a tough decision because we’re sitting there with a four run lead when Clark comes up,” O’Sullivan said. “Even if he hits a home run, we’ve still got a one run lead. Our whole idea was to not let them get in position where the tying run comes to the plate. We’ve got to get our guys in and out. I don’t think we have a closer. Now all three of those guys can still pitch tomorrow.”
Friday night’s win marks the first time the Gators start conference play 4-0 at home since the 1998 team began 8-0.
The series continues Saturday when the Gators send junior Patrick Keating (3-0, 2.92 ERA) to the mound with a first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.