BASEBALL: Ball, LaPorta Spark Gators to 6-0 Win

When Bryan Ball's two seam fast ball is moving the way it should, it's going to be a slow day in the outfield. Infielders, on the other hand, know that they're going to get a real workout. <p> Ball didn't have his best stuff Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium, but the ball was moving so well that he didn't even need his slider.

The two-seamer kept moving away and down from the hitters, resulting in one ground out after another as the Florida Gators took game two of their three-game series with Rhode Island, 6-0, before an announced crowd of 1,646 which braved cold, wind and rainy conditions.

Ball gave up just two hits in six and two-thirds innings. He walked only three batters, struck out four and never allowed a runner past second base as he improved his record to 3-0 on the young season, dropping his earned run average to a microscopic 0.48.

"I really didn't have my slider which is usually my strikeout pitch today," said Ball, who allowed two singles and two fly ball outs. "I didn't have a pitch that people would chase in the first four innings so I was just throwing fast balls and getting good life out of the movement on the ball.

"Last week (win over Miami) I didn't have the movement but I could locate but today I had some problems actually throwing it where I wanted to so I just had to let the ball run on me more instead of trying to spot it up."

For the season, Ball has allowed only one earned run in 18 and two-thirds innings. Most impressive is the fact he's allowed just 10 hits and walked only six which means he's allowing less than one base runner per inning. It is the kind of start that Coach Pat McMahon says is just what his team needed. Coming into the season, the Gators had more questions than answers regarding the pitching but now after ten games, Ball's production on the mound has answered at least a few of the questions.

"Bryan Ball is proving that he's going to be a very solid starter for us," said McMahon, "but we still have some questions. There are four or five roles on our pitching staff that have to be determined. If one of our starters struggles or has to miss a start for some reason who's going to step forward? Who's going to take that responsibility and get the job done?"

While Ball is settling in well as a starter, Darren O'Day and Connor Falkenbach have taken on the role of closers. Falkebach came on to relieve Alan Horne and preserve Friday night's win over Rhode Island. Saturday, it was O'Day's turn to get the job done. He turned in two and a third innings of one-hit relief. He gave up one hit but that runner was erased trying to steal on a perfect throw from catcher Brian Jeroloman to Justin Tordi.

All the offense the Gators needed was provided in the first inning when they jumped all over Zach Zuercher, Rhode Island's ace lefthander, who is on the Roger Clemens Award (top college baseball pitcher) Watch List. Florida put together five of the eight hits they got off Zuercher in the first, resulting in a four-run cushion for Ball.

Jeff Corsaletti got a one-out walk to start the rally and he went to third on a perfectly executed hit and run single through the third base-shortstop hole by Matt LaPorta. Jared Kubin followed with a single to left that brought home Corsaletti with the only run the Gators would need. Lefthanded hitting Brian Leclerc fought off a fastball from Kuercher for a soft single to center field that scored Laporta. One out later, the Gators pulled off a double steal that was followed by a hard single to right by Jeroloman to bring in the third and fourth uns of the inning.

Florida got a monster home run from LaPorta in the second. The hot hitting first baseman unloaded on a fast ball on the inside of the plate to send the ball over the left field bleachers, deep into the O'Connell Center parking lot. It was his sixth home run of the season. LaPorta went 3-3 for the day, raising his batting average to .421 on the season.

"He [Kuercher] tried to beat me in with a fast ball," said LaPorta, who nearly hit the O'Connell Center Tuesday night with a towering home run against Florida A&M. "He tried to throw some sliders and changeups away to try get me to chase one and then he tried to bust me inside with a fast ball. I kinda hit it well."

The Gators got their final run of the game off Kuercher in the fourth without a single hit. Gavin Dickey drew a one-out walk and stole second. One out later, Corsaletti walked and LaPorta loaded up the sacks when he was hit on an inside pitch. Kuercher also hit Kubin to drive home Dickey.

"I think we did a good job of putting up a four-spot early on Zuercher," said McMahon. "He's a quality pitcher. Getting that four-spot was the key to the game."

With the big lead secured, Ball did what he does best: making the Rhode Island hitters beat the ball into the ground. In the second through fourth innings, Ball got every out on a ground ball. He allowed his first hit in the third but he got a double play grounder on the next pitch to erase the runner and got a tapper to first to end the inning.

One out into the sixth, he hit a batter and allowed a single. He got a strikeout for the second out, but McMahon chose to bring on O'Day to finish out the game at that point. O'Day ended the Rams' only scoring threat by getting a tapper back to the mound for the third out.

The victory improves the 12th-ranked Gators to 8-2 on the season. Florida finishes the three-game set with Rhode Island at 1 p.m. Sunday. Righthander Tommy Boss (1-0) is scheduled to start for Florida.

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