Florida pounds Redbirds

The Florida offense continued to show progress in its final tune up for SEC play. The Gators used two three-run innings and a seven-run eight inning, posting a season-high 13 runs. Florida will host Arkansas this weekend to start conference play, and the offensive output created optimism in the Gators' 13-5 win over Illinois State.

The most important part of the last two games for Florida has been the offensive production. The Gators have scored 19 runs in the last two games compared to 12 runs in the five games before that.

"Our swings are getting better," Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but it was good. We've got a little bit of momentum heading into the weekend."

After Illinois State posted four runs to cut the Florida lead to 6-5 in the eighth inning, the Gators responded with seven runs. Zack Powers and Richie Martin chipped in with RBI infield singles before Casey Turgeon delivered the big blow with a grand slam to right field.

It was Florida's first grand slam since Zack Powers had two of them against Duke on February 17, 2013, the opening series of last season.

"I didn't think I hit it that well at all, but you never know what those flags are doing and (the wind) is blowing pretty well," Turgeon said.

Florida's scoring started in the third inning, After getting the leadoff batter on base in each of the first two innings, Florida finally made it hurt after Josh Tobias started it with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Buddy Reed. A passed ball by Illinois State catcher Mike Hollenbeck allowed Tobias to score from third to get the Gators on the board.

The rally continued after Richie Martin singled up the middle and a pitch hit Casey Turgeon. Pete Alonso flew out to the left field warning track before Taylor Gushue grounded a double down the right field line to score both runs and give Florida a 3-0 lead after three innings.

To start the fifth inning, Martin reached on an error and stole second base on the first pitch. After moving to third on a Turgeon fly ball, Alonso reached on an infield single that scored Martin. Two batters later, Braden Mattson launched his first home run at Florida into the left field bleachers, pushing the Florida lead to 6-1.

"Thank God it was windy," Mattson said with a laugh. "I didn't try to swing too hard like I've done the last few at-bats."

Freshman Brett Morales got the start on Wednesday and last 4.1 innings. After struggling in the first two weekends as a member of the weekend rotation, the right-hander settled in and had the best start of his career against Illinois State. Morales allowed four hits, one run and one walk while striking out a career-high five hitters.

After falling out of the weekend rotation after just two starts at the beginning of the year, O'Sullivan was happy to see the freshman get back on the right foot.

"Brett's start was really good," O'Sullivan said. "It was definitely a step in the right direction and more like what we've seen in the offseason. He attacked. He was prepared for tonight. We've seen him pitch so well so many times. It's not like tonight was different than what we've seen before, but they're freshmen. They go through ups and downs."

The bullpen has been steady for the Gators in recent weeks and the reason they've still been in games despite scoring. On Wednesday, that could've have been further from the case. Florida had to use five relievers in the eight inning to get out of a jam after Aaron Rhodes loaded the bases with no outs. The four-run inning cut the Florida lead to 6-5.

Florida opens Southeastern Conference play on Friday night when it hosts Arkansas at 7 p.m. The Razorbacks are 8-5 and have lost five of their last six games.

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