BASEBALL: Gators take series as Miami implodes

In years past, it's been the Florida Gators who have found unique and sometimes creative ways to implode against Miami, so watching the Hurricanes come up with new ways to lose two straight was a new experience for Coach Pat McMahon's team.

After starting the weekend in typical Florida-Miami fashion with the Gators giving the game away on Friday in the top of the ninth, Florida got a 2-1 Saturday win on a dropped fly ball in the bottom of the eleventh inning and then Sunday, the Gators benefitted from 13 walks, two hit batsmen, four wild pitches and an error as they took a 14-11 win before a crowd of 5,178 at McKethan Stadium.

"They're usually pretty good about not beating themselves," said Brian Leclerc, who pounded out three hits and provided clutch defensive plays in right field. "You don't see them walk people and do the kind of things they did too often."

In taking two out of three games from the nation's second ranked team, the Gators improved their season record to 5-2, but more importantly, they got a serious confidence boost.

"You can't complain any time you get two out of three from Miami," said first baseman Matt LaPorta, whose two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning breathed new life into the Gators. Shaky fifth and sixth innings allowed Miami to rally back from a 10-run deficit to a 12-10 margin. LaPorta hammered a hanging slider over the bleachers in left center field for his third homer of the series and fourth of the season to give the Gators some breathing room at 14-10.

The sophomore first baseman more or less expected Miami to rally even when the Gators jumped out to the big lead.

"I wasn't surprised at the way they came back ... that's Miami," he said, "but for us to win it and win two out of three lets us know we can be pretty good, too. I was kind of surprised the way they played today though."

LaPorta's homer and timely relief pitching from Connor Falkenbach sealed the win for the Gators. After LaPorta's big fly, the Hurricanes had one more rally left in them. They got a one-out walk by Brendan Katin in the top of the eighth and that signaled the end for freshman Bryan Augenstein, who gave UF two and a third innings of middle relief including a 1-2-3 seventh after a shaky sixth.

That brought on Falkenbach, who blamed himself for allowing the Hurricanes to rally for three runs in the ninth to win Friday's game. Falkenbach got off to a rough start when Alex Garpedian's weak tapper to first was thrown away by LaPorta, putting runners on the corners with just one out. That's when Falkenbach got into a nice groove to end the threat.

He got a called third strike on Danny Figueroa and got Paco Figueroa to fly to Leclerc in right to end the eighth, then in the ninth, he put down Miami's third, fourth and fifth hitters, who came into the game a combined 45-96 on the season, in order to preserve the win.

"I just wanted to be out there again after Friday night," said the senior sidearmer. "I let my team down and I let myself down so it was just good to be out there again with a chance to compete."

Falkenbach's strong relief job was the second straight game in which the Gators got a shut down performance from the bullpen. Saturday, Darren O'Day, another righthander who throws sidearm with a big motion, got the win with four and two-thirds innings of sparkling relief. Having two pitchers who can close as well as go more than an inning or two gives McMahon a lot of options with his pitching staff which bodes well for the remainder of the season.

"Those guys [Falkenbach and O'Day] do such a good job to get us ground ball opportunities to do things for us that are very important for the success of our team," said McMahon. "One of the things they can pitch long innings so they're not just one or two out guys, and they've figured some things out to get guys out from both sides of the plate."

Although the relief pitching seems solid, McMahon has to come up with a solid number three starter and find a few good middle relievers.

"We've still got some pitching questions," he said. "We have to figure some things out on our staff and some things are starting to fall in place but we have a lot of hard work ahead of us."

Florida fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. Danny Figueroa led off with a single off the glove of Florida starter Tommy Boss. He stole second and then went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Paco Figueroa. Ryan Braun plated the runner with a sacrifice fly to center field. The Hurricanes got their second run of the inning when John Jay lined a single to center that eluded a diving Jeff Corsaletti. By the time the ball was tracked down, Jay outraced the relays to circle the bases.

The Gators answered Miami with a six-run bottom of the first. Adam Davis, Corsaletti, LaPorta and Brian Jeroloman all walked off Miami starter Chris Perez, who had walked just two batters in 11 previous innings this season. Justin Tordi got the Gators first hit of the game, a high bouncer that hopped over third base to bring in Corsaletti and LaPorta. Leclerc singled to center to drive home Jeroloman and send Perez to the showers. Bryson Barber's first hit of the season, a sharp single up the middle, greeted reliever Vince Bongiovanni and brought in Tordi and Leclerc to give the Gators a 6-2 lead.

The Gators put up one run in the third. Brandon McArthur reached on a throwing error and he was singled to third by Stephen Barton. Ball four to Corsaletti was a wild pitch that brought in McArthur.

Florida followed that up with a five-run fourth that was a combination of timely hits and Miami's implosion. Walks to Jeroloman and Barber sandwiched a single by Leclerc to load the bases. McArthur was hit by Bongiovanni to bring in Jeroloman. Adam Davis delivered a single up the middle to score Leclerc and Barber, ending Bongiovanni's outing. Carlos Gutierrez came on for the Hurricanes, promptly waking the next three batters while uncorking two wild pitches to score McArthur and Davis, extending the Florida lead to 12-2.

Miami got to Boss for four straight hits in the fifth that produced two runs. Paco Figueroa hit a sacrifice fly to narrow the Gators lead to 12-5. Braun singled in Diaz and then Jay doubled home Braun. When Jay tried to go to third on the throw to the plate, he was thrown out by Jeroloman, prompting an argument from Miami Coach Jim Morris, who was quickly ejected from the game by third base umpire Tony Walsh.

Augenstein relieved Boss in the sixth, giving up a two-run double to Garabedian and a run-scoring single to Danny Figueroa before he got the side out.

Miami's hopes for a comeback win were bolstered when Barton hit into a double play in Florida's half of the sixth, but Corsaletti extended the inning with a single to left and LaPorta followed with a 400-foot blast over the left center field bleachers.

Morris was proud that his team battled back to make a game of it, but he was disappointed that the Hurricanes gave Florida so many extra opportunities.

"Our young guys couldn't throw strikes, we gave them a lot of opportunities early and we put too many men on base," he said. "If we hadn't walked so many guys today we could have had a chance to win."

McMahon was happy with the way the Gators exercised patience at the plate.

"You have to win pitches," he said. "You have to battle pitch counts. If you battle pitch counts it puts you in position for the rest of the hitters in the order to take advantage."

The fact that the Gators were able to get to the Miami bullpen Friday night and again on Saturday also helped.

"One of our goals in a three game series we want to get into a bullpen the first game," said McMahon, who explained that by forcing Miami to use its bullpen extensively Friday night and then again Saturday, the Hurricanes had tired arms and had to use freshmen in critical situations on Sunday.

Morris said his freshmen have to "grow up and learn to pitch in tough situations because there will be tougher places to play than here. I'm not saying this isn't a tough place to play because it is, but when you go into Omaha [site of the College World Series] and there's 30,000 people and 29,000 of them are rooting against us, that's tougher. Hey, we've beaten Nebraska too many times in football so they hate us. It may be baseball but they still hate us."

The fifteenth-ranked Gators play host to Florida A&M Tuesday night.

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