UGA scores early, holds off Gators

It must be G-Day. Word came through McKethan Stadium that the Georgia GymDogs won yet another national championship in gymnastics at home in Athens. Meanwhile, the Georgia baseball team was busy beating the Florida 7-4 behind a 15-hit offensive performance, solid defense and terrific pitching with an exclamation point from the bullpen.

Just as they have done all season, Georgia scored in the top of the first. The Bulldogs came into Gainesville with 55 first inning runs.

Georgia’s Matt Olson singled up the middle to get things started. Red hot Gordon Beckham, who came into the game hitting .422, followed with a single through the left side gap. Florida starter Billy Bullock then walked clean-up hitter Rich Poythress on four consecutive pitches to load the bases. Designated hitter Bryce Massaroni laced a run scoring single to right field. Lyle Allen hit a fly ball to right that Florida’s Justin Pigott caught and fired it just up the third base line a few feet from the plate but catcher Buddy Munroe was unable to hang on to the ball.

The Bulldogs picked-up four more runs in the third inning. Olson led off with a home run that went just inside the right field foul pole. The ball didn’t look like it went inside the foul pole, but the first base umpire signaled home run.

Florida starter Billy Bullock did not pitch very well through the first three innings. He worked behind in the count and the Georgia hitters were able to hit some balls hard in the third inning off of the right hander.

A Beckham double and a Polythress single into short right field put runners on first and third. Massanari turned on a 2-1 pitch and blasted it out of McKethan Stadium for a three-run home run that gave Georgia a 6-0 lead.

Unlike Bullock, Georgia starting pitcher Trevor Holder did a good job of keeping the Florida batters off balance early in the game. He located his pitches and mixed effective breaking balls with his fastball. The Gators only picked up one hit in the first three innings of play.

“Their starting pitcher was outstanding,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He threw first pitch strikes and threw seventy-five pitches through seven. Billy threw one-hundred and twelve through six. He threw a ton of first pitch strikes and I think Billy was ten out of thirty two first pitch strikes. He worked behind in counts and got behind into some hitter’s counts and they certainly made him pay for it.

“He [Bullock] got the up a lot and wasn’t in command of his secondary stuff too. His slider and change-up went for fifty-percent strikes. It’s hard to do that against a good hitting team. You’ve got to be able to move the ball in and out and change speeds and he wasn’t able to do that.”

Florida finally got things going in the fourth when Avery Barnes led off with a double down the left field line. Barnes moved to third on center fielder Matt den Dekker’s grounder to first base and he came home to score Cole Figueroa singled to left field.

Leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel led off the Georgia sixth with a double to left field. He scored two batters later when Beckham doubled to left field.

The Gators closed the gap in the bottom half of the sixth with a two-out rally. Brandon McArthur doubled to center field. He cruised into second hobbling on his injured right leg and was replaced by pinch-runner Clayton Pisani. Jon Townsend then ripped a single to center field, scoring Pisani. Designated hitter Bryson Barber deposited Trevor Holder’s first pitch over the right field fence for a two-run home run that cut the Bulldogs lead to 7-4.

Florida threatened in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Barnes reached on a catcher’s interference play Den Dekker walked on a 3-2 pitch. Figueroa then laced a single into center field. Georgia coach David Perno went to his bullpen for closer extraordinaire Joshua Fields, who hadn’t given up a run in 20 appearances in relief this season. The hard throwing right hander didn’t disappoint his teammates either. Fields struck out Josh Adams and Brandon McArthur. In fact, Fields came back in the ninth and fanned Jon Townsend, Bryson barber, and Hampton Tignor in the ninth. The second round draft selection of the Atlanta Braves hit 98 miles per hour with his fastball and his breaking ball came in around 84, which kept the Florida batters out of rhythm.

“You’re hoping that he has an off-night,” O’Sullivan said. “If he ends up walking a couple of guys, you end up in a position to get the tying run to the plate. There’s not much that you can do, I mean, guys are hitting under one-hundred against him. You’re not going to go up there and whack away at the first pitch. Hopefully, it’s one of those nights where he walks a guy or two and you run into one. It was one of those nights where he pitched great and you have to tip your hat to him.”

Barnes led the Gators at the plate with a 2-3 performance. Figueroa and Barber went two for four in the contest. The teams will square off again tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. Georgia is expected to throw right-hander Stephen Dodson (5-1, 3.46), while Florida will pitch left-hander Stephen Locke (2-2, 3.45).