BASEBALL: Pitching Duel Expected For Gators Friday

If early season results are a true indicator, then a pitching duel should be expected Friday night when the eighth-ranked Florida Gators take on Villanova at McKethan Stadium to begin a three-game weekend series. The Gators will open with hard throwing righthander Alan Horne (1-0, 3.00 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 18 innings) against Villanova's Nick Allen, who opened his season last weekend with a no-hitter against Norfolk State.

Allen, who hasn't given up an earned run in 12 innings in the early season for Villanova, 4-1-1, pitched only the seventh no-hitter in the 126 years of college baseball for the Wildcats, the first since the 1962 season. Horne got his first win of the season last Friday night against Rhode Island. The former first round draft choice is just beginning to round into the kind of dominating form that Coach Pat McMahon expects to lead the Gators in the 2005 season. Last week against Rhode Island, Horne was allowed to extend his pitch count to 102. If the weather is warm and dry, he'll be expected to throw in the 100-pitch range again against the Wildcats.

Florida takes a 9-2 record into the series. The Gators have won six straight with their most recent win a 13-1 shellacking of Mercer this past Tuesday. The Mercer game was significant because it marked an end of a batting slump for Florida's leadoff hitter, Adam Davis. Davis homered from both sides of the plate against Mercer, the second dinger a second inning grand slam. He's raised his batting average to .211.

"Getting Adam Davis untracked is huge for us," said McMahon last Saturday after the Gators had beaten Rhode Island. "When he's going well, so many good things happen for us."

Florida brings one of the nation's hottest hitters into the game in first baseman Matt LaPorta, who has a .429 batting average that includes six homers, three of which are of the monster variety. LaPorta's last two home runs, one against Florida A&M and the other against Rhode Island last Saturday, have cleared the left field bleachers and come awfully close to hitting the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

"Right now I'm seeing the ball big," said LaPorta. "I'm just in a real good groove with my swing."

Saturday, the Gators will send righthander Bryan Ball (2-0) against the Wildcats. Ball's last two outings against Miami and Rhode Island have dropped his earned run average to a microscopic 0.48. Although his out pitch is a slider that gets a ground ball out, Ball has 15 strikeouts in 18 innings. When Ball is really on his game as he was last week in a six and two thirds innings stint against Rhode Island, it's not uncommon to see three or four innings go by without a fly ball.

Ball will be opposed by Villanova's Mike Loree, 2-0.

Sunday's pitching matchups have yet to be determined, although the Gators could come back with Tommy Boss, who threw three innings in Tuesday's win over Mercer.

Florida brings a team batting average of .313 and a team earned run average of 2.80 into the series.

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