BASEBALL: Canes Rally In 9th Stuffs Gators, 9-7

Florida pitchers Alan Horne and Connor Falkenbach struck out 10 Hurricanes. Miami went deep into its bullpen, using five different pitchers. Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta crushed two home runs over the left field fence. But, just like they have so many times before, second-ranked Miami did it again, rallying late to deny the Florida Gators a victory celebration.

Trailing number 15-ranked Florida 7-6, the Hurricanes scored three runs in the top of the ninth to beat the Gators 9-7 before a Friday night crowd of 4,169 at McKethan Stadium.

Florida was poised for victory when the ninth inning got off to a good start. Reliever Connor Falkenbach struck out Miami's second leading hitter, Paco Figueroa to get things started but things went downhill from there. Third baseman Ryan Braun hit a single to left field, putting the Hurricanes tying runner aboard. Three pitches later, Miami's leading hitter, Jon Jay, blasted a triple to the right center field wall, scoring Braun and putting the Canes in tremendous shape to take the lead. Miami skipper Jim Morris called for the squeeze and Danny Valencia delivered, scoring Jay, and giving the Hurricanes a one run lead.

Valencia quickly stole second, and with two outs scored on shortstop Roger Tomas' single to right field to stretch the Miami lead to 9-7.

The Canes brought on closer Danny Gil, who walked Jeff Corsaletti to start the bottom of the inning. LaPorta missed on a Gil fast ball that was up in the zone. He fouled it off where it was hauled in by Braun for the Gators first out. On a 2-1 count, Brian Jeroloman hit a ground ball to second baseman Walter Diaz who tagged out Corsaletti and threw on to first for the game ending double play.

"We played our hearts out tonight," Corsaletti said, "but they finished well. That's why they're number two in the nation. It's how you finish."

Just like starting pitchers Cesar Carrillo (Miami) and Alan Horne (Florida), Falkenbach didn't have his best stuff either. The senior struggled as he entered the game in the seventh, giving up three hits and two runs, one of them earned. He pitched well in the eighth, and he was just who Florida Coach Pat McMahon wanted on the hill come the decisive ninth inning.

"It was a heck of a college baseball game," Coach McMahon said. "I thought that we defended the field. We really competed. Playing as many games as we will through the year, Connor is the guy we want out there. He's our guy."

Perhaps the most impressive pitcher overall tonight was starter Alan Horne. The transfer from Marianna gave up nine hits and four earned runs over six innings. However, he demonstrated a wicked curveball that crossed up Miami hitters all night. Horne struck out five and walked only one on 102 pitches. It is especially impressive considering Horne is still in the process of getting back into rhythm after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2003.

"We're [pitching Coach Ross Jones and I] are still in the process of getting to know each other," Horne stated. "He's learning about the things that I can do and we're still going through tendencies. It wasn't my best stuff out there tonight. Neither of us (Carrillo and I) really had our best stuff. We usually don't give up that many runs."

Horne ran the count full on leadoff man Danny Figueroa before the designated hitter doubled to right center to start the game. He would advance to third on Paco Figueroa's single between third and short, scoring moments later on Braun's deep fly to center fielder Corsaletti.

The Gators answered with three in the bottom of the second. LaPorta singled through the third/short gap. Jeroloman then walked on four straight pitches by Carrillo. Both runners advanced on Jeff Tordi's sacrifice bunt, and scored on Brian LeClerc's single to short right center. Third baseman Brandon McArthur reached on a throwing error by Miami third baseman Ryan Braun, which scored LeClerc. The Gators led 3-1.

But, Miami came right back to tie the game in the top of the third. Diaz led off the inning walking on four straight pitches. He moved to second on Braun's single. Both men scored on Jay's double to left center. Jay finished the game 3-4 with four RBI's. He is now hitting .552.

Florida regained the lead on LaPorta's first home run of the game, a solo shot to deep left in the bottom half of the third inning.

Paco Figueroa doubled to the left field wall in the Hurricanes half of the fifth inning. Moments later, the Gators had Jay caught in a rundown after he had singled, but as Figueroa stuttered down the line, the Florida infield got too caught up in the rundown with Jay. Adam Davis missed the cover and the throw to the plate was not in time. Jay was also able to get back to first. He was later thrown out trying to steal second.

Florida scored a run in the sixth courtesy of a double by Tordi and an error by Miami second baseman Walter Diaz.

With the Gators leading 5-4, both teams put together two-run seventh innings. The Hurricanes pieced together three hits and the Gators only error of the evening (Brian Jeroloman) to take a momentary 6-5 advantage.

However, the lead would be short lived as LaPorta cranked out a two-run shot to regain the lead at 7-6 before the aforementioned Miami fireworks in the top of the ninth.

The Sunshine State rivals will punch it out again Saturday at high noon. Florida is expected to start Bryan Ball (1-0 1.50 ERA), while Miami is scheduled to pitch Dan Touchet (1-0, 6.30 ERA).

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