Florida and Mississippi State wasted little time demonstrating offensive firepower on Sunday. The Bulldogs jumped on starter Billy Bullock for four runs to open the contest, while the Gators rattled right hander Josh Johnson for five runs in the bottom half of the inning. But, the Bulldogs held on in a wild 14-13 thriller.
The teams combined to pound out 27 runs on 34 hits today. Mississippi State picked up 20 hits and 14 runs, while the Gators ripped 14 hits and scored 13 times.
Essentially, that’s exactly the way it played out all weekend. The Gators (43) and Bulldogs (48) combined for 91 hits. They scored 66 runs, with Florida tallying 32 of those to the Bulldogs 34 runs. Mississippi State (12-4) took the series 2-1.
The Gators (11-12) have developed an attitude. Florida scored 17 runs with two out in the inning and continuously battled back when down. If you were fortunate enough to witness the series, you had to come away with many positives. This team is growing up and improving.
No one performed better on the Florida roster than Brian Leclerc. And nobody needed it more either. Leclerc was batting just .043 after game one of the George Washington series. He entered the Mississippi State series with a lowly .135 average and had yet to drive in a single run.
That was then. Leclerc kicked off the Southeastern Conference schedule by kicking the Bulldogs pitching staff around all weekend. The senior right fielder went 10 for 13 (.769) with eight RBI’s.
Don’t be surprised to see Leclerc earn Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
Mississippi State rudely welcomed freshman Billy Bullock to Southeastern Conference play. Leadoff hitter Jeffrey Rea tripled to left-center. Bullock hit Brandon Turner on a 1-2 pitch. Edward Easley followed with a single that scored Rea. Mitch Moreland then hit a home run ball that was rendered an assist by winds blowing out to center for 4-0 Bulldogs lead.
With one out center fielder Matt de Dekker was hit by a pitch. He moved to second when Johnson walked LaPorta. The runners advanced when Figueroa grounded out to second. Designated hitter Austin Pride then ripped a single to to short, scoring den Dekker. Right fielder Brian Leclerc followed by drilling a single into right-center field that scored LaPorta. Leclerc was hustling and advanced to second on the play. Catcher Cody Neer pounded a one strike pitch up the gut scoring Pride and Leclerc. Neer was off and running and stole second to move into scoring position. It proved to be a sound move. One batter later, left fielder Jonathan Pigott became the fourth consecutive Florida batter to single off Johnson. In doing so, he drove in the leading run when Neer scored the fifth run of the frame as he crossed the plate.
The Bulldogs scored three more in the second inning when Edward Easley found the sweet spot for a three-run home run. It was Mississippi State’s second three-run shot in consecutive innings.
Trailing 7-5, Florida rallied in the bottom of the second. The first two batters in the order struck out. LaPorta walked on a full count. Shortstop Cole Figueroa warmed the bats up with a hard single off the pitcher’s glove. Pride followed with his second run scoring single of the game, as he drove home LaPorta. Leclerc then laced a run scoring single of his own to right field to tie the game at 7-7.
Florida head coach Pat McMahon went to the pen bringing in right hander Patrick Keating. Unfortunately, Keating was unable to keep the Bulldogs leashed. Mississippi State scored three runs on four hits in the third inning to take a 10-7 lead.
Once again the Gators would rally though. In the fourth, Matt den Dekker and LaPorta led off the inning with singles. Figueroa laid a down a sacrifice bunt moving the runners over. Pride hit a fly ball deep to right, scoring den Dekker. The hot hitting Brian Leclerc then connected for his third single of the game to score LaPorta and draw the Gators within one at 10-9.
However, the lead was short lived. The SEC leaders in batting average (.378 and slugging percentage .574) scored two more runs in the top of the fifth. McMahon once again went to the pen. This time he brought on freshman right hander Kyle Mullaney. The Bishop Kenny graduate allowed a run scoring single and walk before securing the final two outs of the inning.
Pride inched the Gators closer with a solo shot over the left field fence in the sixth. Unfortunately, Figeroa had reached on an error by Mississippi State second baseman Jeffrey Rea, but was caught stealing two pitches into Pride’s at bat. The Bulldogs lead was cut to 12-10.
Just as they have through much of their season, Mississippi State pieced together three hits for two runs distancing themselves from Florida. McMahon caalled on left hander David Hurst, who struck out clean up hitter Mitch Moreland on three consecutive pitches. However, he gave up a two-run single to Brian LaNifa. The Bulldogs moved to a 14-10 advantage.
rror by the Mississippi State center fielder on a ball hit by Neer allowed him to reach. Neer was running all the way and was able to coast into second on the ball hit a mile high. Barnes later drove Neer in when he grounded out to second.
The Gators began to press on for a rally of their own in the eighth. Chris Petrie pinch hit for den Dekker and led off the inning with a single up the middle. LaPorta reached on an error by the shortstop. Petrie then scored on a fielders choice to draw the Gators within two at 14-12.
The Florida rally continued in the ninth. Hurst kept the Mississippi State bats cold shutting the Bulldogs out in the eighth and ninth innings. Pinch hitter Bryson Barber led off the ninth with a blast that sailed over the scoreboard beyond the right field fence. However, pinch hitter Jared Kubin struck out, third baseman Jon Townsend flew out to center, and pinch hitter Dustin Bamberg struck out to end the game.
The Florida bullpen needed to come through today for the Gators to take the series. They struggled until who Hurst came in to quiet the Bulldogs bats. Granted this is a very solid offensive club, but Florida needed them to slow the attack down.
Florida will play Stetson on Tuesday night in DeLand at 7pm. They’ll travel to Auburn to take on the Tigers next weekend before returning to Gainesville for a mid-week contest against Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday, March 27th.