Tennessee head coach Rod Delmonico took the bat out of Florida slugger Matt LaPorta’s hands and nervously watched it pay off for a 6-5 Tennessee victory over the Gators Thursday night at McKethan Stadium.
Delmonico had pitchers James Adkins (6-7) and Aaron Lockwood intentionally walk LaPorta five times in the contest.
Who could blame him? LaPorta leads the Southeastern Conference in batting average (.423), slugging percentage (.853), on-base percentage (.579), and is currently second with 19 hone runs.
Florida head coach Pat McMahon anticipated as much and slotted the Gators second leading hitter Brian Leclerc right behind LaPorta. The senior right fielder entered tonight’s contest hitting .380 in SEC play, and .333 overall.
It was a move that almost worked for the McMahon and the Gators. Unfortunately, a strong effort from Adkins, a Tennessee veteran and a 1-5 performance by Leclerc wasn’t quite enough to overcome the Vols gamble.
Leclerc ended the inning for Florida four of the fives time that he appeared at the plate and was responsible for leaving eight men on base. Two of those times he hit the ball hard. However, he struck out two other times.
The Volunteers scored two runs in the fourth. J.P. Arencibia led off the frame with a double. First baseman Yan Gomes followed reaching courtesy of a throwing error by Florida third baseman Jon Townsend that pulled LaPorta off the bag. Designated hitter Jeff Lockwood walked on four consecutive pitches to load the bases. Second baseman Tony Delmonico hit into a fielders choice that scored Arencibia. One batter later, Shawn Griffin hit a fly ball deep enough onto left field to score Gomes.
Tennessee junior Julio Borbon safely slides into third base for an RBI triple as Florida junior Jon Townsend applies the tag during the seventh inning of the Gators’ 6-5 loss to the Volunteers on Thursday, May 17, 2007 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. / TIM CASEY
Tennessee (32-22, 12-14) scored another run in the top of the sixth to stretch their advantage to 3-0.
The Gators finally answered in the bottom half of the inning. Townsend led off with a walk. Two batters later, freshman Jonathan Pigott pounded his second home run of the season over the fence to close the gap to 3-2.
Unfortunately, the Vols answered with two of their own in the seventh keyed by right fielder Julio Borbon’s triple to the right field line. They scored again on Gomes single to make the score 5-2.
Florida (27-27, 14-14) closed the gap once more in the seventh when Cole Figueroa led off with a single. He scored when Leclerc singled to score the Gators third run of the game. They added yet another on Cody Neer’s single.
Pinch hitter Chad Maddox hit what amounted to the game winner with a home run to right field to lead off the eighth inning. The Vols led 6-4.
Avery Barnes drove home Neer in the ninth, but the Gators were unable to advance Barnes to the plate when freshman pinch hitter Jake Hicks struck out swinging to end the game.
Florida starter Kyle Mullaney (4-2) took the loss, but pitched pretty effectively. The freshman kept the Volunteers scoreless until the fourth. He threw 6.1 inning and allowed three earned runs. David Hurst came on in relief and pitched 2.2 innings, allowing just one earned run.
The start of the game was delayed until 7:52 because of rain. The two teams will meet again tomorrow night at 6:30pm. Junior Bryan Augenstein (6-5) will face Tennessee left hander Nick Hernandez (4-2).
The Gators still hold the sixth spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Thye are currently tied with Alabama, but hold a tie breaker advantage because they were able to take the series over the Crimson Tide.