The Gators loaded the bases in the first and third innings on Saturday afternoon and failed to capitalize. The fourth provided them with yet another bases loaded opportunity and five runs later that saying about the third time being the charm proved prophetic.
Florida was 0-15 in bases loaded opportunities until Dustin Bamberg drilled a single to center field. The inning was indeed the offensive difference in this decision and the work in progress that is the Florida baseball team is headed upward. Seven different Gators had hits in the game- including four who are in their first year with the club.
Florida (4-2) defeated fifth ranked Miami (3-4) for a record seventh consecutive time and secured the series over the Hurricanes before a wonderful crowd of 4,427. The Gators will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon at McKethan Stadium.
Avery Barnes, who was hitting in the nine hole, got things going in the all-important fourth with a single up the gut. Shortstop Jon Townsend followed with a single through the left side gap. Florida head coach Pat McMahon called for a hit and run with the hot hitting Cole Figueroa, who was 2 for 2 in the game. Figueroa hit the ball to first base enabling the runners advance into scoring position. Miami skipper Jim Morris called for the intentional walk of Florida home run king Matt LaPorta to load the bases. Finally things worked out for the Gators with the bases loaded.
Clean-up hitter Matt den Dekker beautifully worked Miami reliever Eric Erickson for ten pitches before securing the free pass that scored Barnes. The extended appearance allowed the bottom half of the Florida order a tremendous opportunity to look him over.
“You know, that was one of the neat things about this game,” McMahon said. “Erickson and den Dekker matched up bases loaded. What a neat match-up. I think that you got to compliment both of them in that scenario. Eric kept forcing the ball in the strike zone and Matt den Dekker did a great job of fouling off some pitches and then finally had the presence to take the pitch for bases loaded. That was a huge play for us, because obviously as game’s unfold it’s grabbing a moment and Matt den Dekker did that for us.”
“No question,” he added when asked about the importance of allowing the remaining order to see Erickson before he faced them. “As a result of that, as game’s unfold it’s one at bat so often can make, one pitch so often can determine the outcome of a game. When it’s going to happen no one knows that. So, when the opportunity presents itself players have to step up and grab it. He’s just continuing to get better and better as a ballplayer for us and we’re excited about that.”
Clayton Pisani stroked the ball to third base where Gus Menendez couldn’t get a handle on it allowing Townsend to score. It was Menendez’ third error in the series. He was later replaced by Roger Tomas. Dustin Bamberg pinch hit for Barber. He delivered with a run scoring single to center field giving the Gators a 5-3 lead. It was the first time this season the Gators moved a runner home with the bases loaded.
McMahon lifted Hampton Tignor for pinch hitter Jonathan Pigott, who turned on Erickson pitch and smacked it to center field. Den Dekker on the play. Pisani scored and Pigott advanced to second on the throw. Barnes batted once more in the inning and struck out as Florida put up five runs and took command of the game.
The beginning wasn’t exactly what the home team had planned. Southpaw Stephen Locke surrendered the Gators first home run of the 2006 season when Miami first baseman Yonder Alonzo cranked the second pitch of the game over the left field fence with Ryan Jackson aboard. Locke began the game by striking out leadoff hitter Jemile Weeks, who had two of the Hurricanes four hits on Friday night.
It didn’t take Florida leadoff hitter Jon Townsend long to establish himself as the offensive catalyst in this ballgame. He ripped starter Danny Gil’s second pitch down the left field line for a double. Cole Figueroa took Gil’s next offering right back at him, through the middle. Townsend demonstrated outstanding hustle and beat the relay throw to the plate for the Gators first run.
Matt LaPorta was hit by a pitch. Two batters later, Gil plunked Clayton Pisani with a pitch on a full count to load the bases. However, despite having only one out, the Gators came away empty.
Cole Figueroa led off the Florida third blasting Gil’s third pitch over the right field fence where it pelted the trunk of a palm tree. Figueroa went 2 for 5 in the game and had six defensive assists. Matt den Dekker pounded a one-out single to right field. Pisani drew a full count base on the sixth pitch. Designated hitter Bryson Barber singled to right field to load the bases once again. Senior Brian Leclerc looked at a called third strike that caught the inside corner of the plate. Hampton Tignor and struck out swinging on a full count to end the threat.
“They might want to challenge me because I’m a freshman,” Figueroa said. “It definitely helps having Matt (LaPorta) hit behind me because I’m definitely going to see a lot more pitches. Teams are definitely going to want to pitch around Matt and go around him.”
Defensively, LaPorta was sensational. He took away a hard hit balls from Jason Hagerty, Dave DiNatale, and Blake Tekotte. He made two outstanding plays on ground balls that could well have added base runners for the Hurricanes on Hagerty and Tekotte, which came in the ninth inning drawing a rousing applause form the large crowd.
“I don’t really get too much credit for my defense,” LaPorta stated. “For some reason, people don’t think that I can play defense.”
Locke allowed four hits and three earned runs in four innings. He struck out two and walked one. He gave way to Patrick Keating who picked up the victory. He gave up four hits and two earned runs in 2.2 innings of work.
Josh Edmondson and David Hurst closed things out for the Gators. Neither allowed a hit in 2.1 combined innings.
The teams will met for the final time of the series on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1pm. Florida will send right hander Billy Bullock (1-0, 0.00 ERA) to the mound. Miami will counter with right hander Manny Miguelez (0-0, 2.25 ERA)
LaPorta was honored for breaking the University of Florida home run record. His parents, Vince and Cindy were on hand with head coach Pat McMahon at home plate for the recognition. Long live “The King”.
Brandon McArthur is still unable to play with a sore arm. Jared Kubin will be out for an extended period with a dislocated shoulder.