A new king was crowned when slugger Matt LaPorta left no doubts with his first swing of the bat in the seventh inning. VMI reliever Ian Casher could only turn and watch as the ball quickly sailed out of McKethan Stadium.
With the swing, LaPorta had chiseled his name into Florida history with his 56th career home run. The 2005 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year was greeted by several teammates at home plate and had a big hug waiting for him as he met head coach Pat McMahon on the top step of the Florida dugout.
But, hold the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the Elvis’ sideburns, and cape. This king swings a bat.
“My Mom might make me a peanut butter or jelly or something,” LaPorta said laughing. “She was kidding me about that last night. My Dad said that he got it (the ball). I told him to go running out when I got up every time. It’s going to go in our little cabinet at home.”
“I was telling myself to relax up there and take a good swing at the ball and he left it out over the plate and I took a good swing and hit it out of the yard,” LaPorta said. “It was a fast ball. It didn’t really hit me when I was running around the bases, but I sat down in the dugout and I thought about it and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing. For the time being, I have the Florida home run record. I just thought that’s amazing. It was a great feeling- just appreciation for being here and happy to be here at the University of Florida.”
This was the performance from a talented Florida team that we had all been looking forward to seeing since McMahon and company securing their services with one of the top rated recruiting classes last year.
True freshman Billy Bullock (6-6, 225) took command of the mound for the Gators. The Riverview graduate limited the Keydets to just four hits in 5.2 shut out innings. Bullock (1-0) struck out four in his impressive Florida debut.
He kept the ball down in the zone most of the day. He gave up a double in the just before he was lifted for reliever Josh Edmondson.
“I as locating it alright,” he said. “I could have done better. You can always do better. I worked a lot in the bullpen in the fall and during the spring, so the hard work paid off”.
“It helped a lot,” Bullock said of the early run support. “I could just go out there and pitch and didn’t have to worry about giving up a runner here or there. It didn’t matter, because the guys had my back. They were putting runs on the board. Four home runs helps a lot when you’re pitching”.
He too got the game ball. He said that he’ll probably give it to his Mom.
The Gators wasted little time Second baseman Cole Figueroa singled to right-center. One pitch later, Matt LaPorta drilled a single through the left side of the infield. VMI starter Travis Smink tossed a wild pitch that moved the runners into scoring position. Designated hitter Dustin Bamberg grounded out to second base, scoring Figueroa. The run marked the first time Florida had led in the 2007 season.
The Gators scored once more in the second inning when left fielder Austin Pride, seeing his first action of the year, deposited Smink’s two-out offering over the left field fence. Right fielder Justin Pigott singled on a full count to to center field. Head coach Pat McMahon moved shortstop Jon Townsend from the two hole to the leadoff position in today’s lineup. Townsend, who struck out during his first at-bat, didn’t disappoint with a runner on base. He drilled a double to deep left. Unfortunately, Pigott was forced to hold at third base and Figueroa fouled out in foul territory by the third base side stranding two runners. The Gators led 2-0.
LaPorta reached on a error to start the third. Two batters later, catcher Cody Neer pounded a 1-0 offering over the fence in right-center. It marked the Gators first home run with runners on board this season. Florida took a 4-0 lead that would last until the seventh when LaPorta hit his record setting blast.
The record setting first baseman hit his shot to start the seventh. Two outs later, freshman center fielder Matt den Dekker singled to right field. Clayton Pisani was hit by a pitch and the Gators were back in business. Jared Kubin pinch hit for Chris Petrie and singled to left field scoring den Dekker. The Gators led 6-0.
Figueroa led off the eighth inning with a solo blast of his own. The second baseman took John Phelps’ 1-2 pitch over the right field fence.
Florida pounded out 12 hits with the top three guys in the lineup- Townsend, Figueroa, and LaPorta each securing two hits apiece. The “Work In Progress” left 11 men on base, son there is plenty of room for improvement.
The one constant is the Florida bullpen. Josh Edmonson, Steven Porter, Patrick Keating, and David Hurst have thrown 11 scoreless innings in which they have allowed only three hits, while fanning eight Keydets.
Edmondson has made two appearances in those games, pitching 5.1 innings and allowing just two hits, while striking out four.
Florida will face Florida A&M on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. First pitch is scheduled at 6:30pm. We plan on seeing plenty of you in Elvis’ attire to celebrate the new reigning home run king of Florida baseball.