Gators have pivotal series against Kentucky upcoming

Riding high after a 5-4 road victory over No. 1 Florida State on Wednesday night, Florida (21-19) returns to SEC action by hosting East foe Kentucky (26-10-1) at McKethan Stadium. The Gators (8-7) dropped all three games last weekend at Arkansas, while the Wildcats (6-8-1) fell twice in three matchups with Vanderbilt in Lexington.

Freshman LHP Tony Davis (Cooper City, Fla.) (2-1, 5.62) is set to make his first Friday night start at 6:30 p.m. against Wildcat sophomore southpaw Chris Rusin (3-2, 4.94). Junior RHP Bryan Augenstein (Sebastian, Fla.) is slated to pitch on Saturday at 4 p.m. against UK left-hander Andrew Albers (5-1, 3.70). Rookie right-hander Billy Bullock (Valrico, Fla.) (2-4, 4.87) gets the nod in Sunday’s finale at 11 a.m. against Kentucky junior righty Greg Dombrowski (4-1, 4.35).

Two members of the Wildcat staff have Gator connections, as head coach John Cohen served as an assistant under Pat McMahon from 2002-03 and UK pitching coach Gary Henderson served in the same capacity for the Orange and Blue from 1995-98. During his tenure, Florida advanced to the College World Series in 1996 and 1998.

UF halted No. 1 Florida State’s home winning streak at 30 games with a 5-4 triumph in front of season-high 6,574 fans at Dick Howser Stadium. The victory enabled the Gators to capture the regular-season series from both the Seminoles and Miami (Fla.) in the same campaign for the first time since 1996 and marked FSU’s first loss at home since May 20, 2006 (15-7 to N.C. State).

Senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) was a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBI and UF’s bullpen kept the high-powered Florida State offense off the scoreboard over the final three innings. Senior Kris Gawriluk (Deltona, Fla.) notched his first win and classmate David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.) collected his fourth save by recording the final six outs.

Although it might not necessarily show up in the boxscore, freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) made two spectacular catches in center field that prevented Florida State from creeping closer as the game hung in the balance. In the fourth, junior Jack Rye launched a ball to deep center that the rookie tracked down with a full sprint and a leaping grab against the center-field wall. In the seventh with the Gators clinging to a one-run edge, den Dekker made another sterling catch at the warning catch to rob freshman pinch hitter Ohmed Danesh of potential extra bases with a runner on second and one down.

Senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) went 2-for-4 against the Seminoles with two runs and an RBI double to raise his hitting streak to 16 games. During the skein, the slugger is batting .492 (29-for-59) with 26 RBI, 24 runs, 14 walks and 11 homers. He contributed his team-leading 18th multiple-hit outing in Tallahassee and moved into second on the school’s career list with his 194th RBI. LaPorta has reached base in 37 of the 38 games he has played in this year and leads Division I in slugging percentage (.878) and on-base percentage (.586).

In its last nine games, Florida has faced a top-five opponent on eight occasions (No. 1 Florida State twice, No. 4 South Carolina three times, No. 5 Arkansas three times). After hosting defending SEC co-champion Kentucky (26-10-1) this weekend, the Orange and Blue will travel to the Music City for a weekend set against No.1 Vanderbilt (32-8).

Florida dropped two of three games at No. 23 Kentucky over April 7-9 last season for its third-consecutive SEC series loss. The teams split the first two contests before the Wildcats claimed Sunday’s rubber game, 8-6. The triumph enabled the Wildcats to claim their first series victory over the Gators since April 16-18, 1999 in Gainesville. UK had not emerged victorious on a weekend against UF in Lexington since winning two of three games from April 22-24, 1994. LaPorta clubbed a homer in every game and was 5-for-12 (.417) in the series with five RBI and four runs. The Gators batted .303 (33-for-109) on the weekend but had a 5.61 team earned run average. Augenstein fired his third complete-game of the campaign to lift the Gators to a 6-4 triumph on Saturday over the ‘Cats. Brian Jeroloman set a career-high with a pair of HR in game two and matched his personal best of four RBI. All five of the Gators’ extra-base hits were homers.

LaPorta has homered in all three games against Kentucky two years in a row. Over his career, the slugger is hitting .417 (15-for-36) with 20 RBI, 10 runs and eight jacks in nine meetings with the Wildcats. LaPorta has drawn five walks and been plunked three times.

Florida and Kentucky will be kicking off the second half of the league schedule this weekend. Through 15 SEC outings in ‘06, the Gators were 5-10 and wound up 10-20 and out of the postseason. UF possesses an 8-7 mark with other series remaining against Vanderbilt (away), Alabama (home), LSU (away) and Tennessee (home).