BASEBALL: Gators Rally Past Rhode Island, 5-4

With an announced crowd of 713 that looked more like 200 in the McKethan Stadium stands because of rain and cold, the Florida Gators rallied past a Rhode Island team that just didn't want to go away, 5-4, Friday night, in the first game of a three-game series. The start of the game was delayed by more than 40 minutes due to rain.

The win improved Florida's record to 7-2 and it marked the first win on a Friday night this year for the Gators. Florida lost its season opener to Charleston Southern on a Friday night, then they lost to Miami last Friday night. On Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays, the Gators are 6-0. Rhode Island, the favorites to win the Atlantic-10 Conference this year fell to 0-1 in its season opener.

Florida Coach Pat McMahon knew this was going to be a tough game and a tough series with Rhode Island.

"That is an outstanding defensive club," said McMahon, noting that the Rams are a "veteran, seasoned club, getting outside for the first time and the excitement and enthusiasm for playing outside. They are really a solid ball club. They pitch very good, the defend, they do things on the base paths. It is a wonderful test for our ball club."

With the Gainesville weather more like the Rhode Island weather the Rams left behind, the Gators seemed out of their element at the plate early on in the game. The Gators managed only two hits and two runs in the first five innings against the Rams tough righthander, Dan Frederick. Frederick managed to wiggle his way out of a lot of early inning trouble, stranding seven runners before he ran out of gas in the sixth. He gave up three hits and two runs in the sixth before he was lifted..

Florida starter Alan Horne battled strong all night and kept the Gators close until the Gators could string together back to back hits in the sixth to go ahead. Florida scored three times in the bottom of the sixth, allowing McMahon to pull Horne for sidearmer Connor Falkenbach. Stephen Barton doubled home two runs to put the Gators ahead, 4-3, and Matt LaPorta shot a single to left field past the Rams diving third baseman to bring home Barton with what proved to be the game-winner. With the 5-3 lead, McMahon brought in Falkenbach from the bullpen to close it out..

"His pitch counts in these conditions dictated that," Coach McMahon said after pulling Horne who threw 109 pitches. "It was six quality innings. Alan Horne continues to get better. I think if you would have asked Alan, I think he felt like he had a little better command. The thing I am very impressed with him is he continues to compete. He makes quality pitches in situations where competitors come through."

Falkenback made quick work of the Rams in the seventh. He threw just seven pitches in as he faced only three batters. With two outs in the eighth, the Rams got a double from Mike Rainville, followed by a single from Josh Nestor to score their final run. Faulkenbach got out of the jam on a great pickoff throw to second base by catcher Brian Jeroloman.

Falkenbach's effort brought a smile to Coach McMahon's face.

"(He) continues to shine and throw the ball in the strike zone and compete for us and give our defense a chance to make plays," said McMahon. "I can't speak enough about those two young men (Faulkenbach and Horne) tonight."

The game wasn't without its dramatic plays. In the bottom of the seventh, Justin Tordi led off with a single, but the next hitter popped to third where Rainville made a running catch by the visitor's dugout. Tordi thought he could take second on the play, but Rainville threw him out to complete a rally killing double play.

In the sixth inning Rhode Island's Shawn Hagey had an RBI grounder to right field but he was thrown out at first base by Brian Leclerc. The rare outfield to first ground out happened because Hagey popped his kneecap out of joint trying to break out of the batter's box. Hagey is day to day but he could be back for Saturday's game.

Coach McMahon was pleased with the Gators effort and excited about how his team rallied to win.

"What a great game to be involved in tonight," he said. "It was fun, a lot of strategy involved. One of the things I am really proud of is every time they scored we answered. That is a very important part of learning to be successful. We could never get ahead until late, but that was a heck of a college game."

Barton came up big for the Gators offensively recording two hits, two runs, and two RBIs on the night leading the Gators in all three categories.

"Stephen Barton's two out hit was huge," said McMahon. "What great heart he has and what a great man."

The Gators continue the series against URI Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Gators will start junior Bryan Ball on Saturday followed by senior Tommy Boss on Sunday.

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