BASEBALL: UF Rallies In Eighth Past Villanova, 6-5

After six frustrating innings of hammering the baseball all over the park only to see one outstanding fielding play after another by the Villanova Wildcats, the Florida Gators felt they were due a break or two. Villanova starter Mike Loree wasn't fooling anyone but one hard hit ball after another found its way into a Villanova glove and the Wildcats looked like a team ready to take a 2-0 advantage in this three-game series as they took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.

When the Gators finally the breaks they needed, Loree was watching on the bench as three different Villanova relievers tried their hand at shutting down Florida. Two walks, a hit batsman, a sacrifice fly and a pair of hits were bundled together for four runs and that was all the Gators needed to score a 6-5 come from behind win over the Wildcats to even the series at 1-1 before a crowd of 2,443 at McKethan Stadium.

Eighth-ranked Florida (10-3) and Villanova (5-2-1) will conclude the series Sunday at noon at McKethan Stadium. Righthander Tommy Boss (2-0) will get the start for the Gators.

After taking an 11-1 loss to Villanova Friday night, the Gators came out Saturday determined to seize the momentum early, and though an Adam Davis bunt single, a stolen base and a hard single to left by Matt LaPorta staked Florida to a 1-0 lead, it was actually more of the same for Florida. Just as they did Friday night, the Gators couldn't bunch hits together to break open the game early. Once Loree got through the first inning, he lived a dangerous life, getting outs on at least six hard hit balls that needed six inches in either direction to be base hits.

"That's the fun part about playing baseball," said LaPorta, whose two-run double to left field in the seventh tied the game at 5-5. "One day you can have chink hits and the next day you can crush it and it goes right at somebody."

In the second inning Brian Jeroloman smashed a one-hop liner that Villanova shortstop Ryan Arcadia dived to stop, then threw to first to nip Jeroloman by a step. One out later, Daniel Brooks hit a long drive to the deepest part of the park but the crosswinds held the ball up just enough that Villanova center fielder Kris Molloy caught over his shoulder before crashing into the wall. Arcadia robbed Jeff Corsaletti of a hit in the third inning and in the fourth, Loree got a double play grounder on a Justin Tordi one hop smash to second baseman Mark Cardillo.

Loree got out of a jam in the fifth inning when he allowed a run when Arcadia atoned for a throwing error with an outstanding play to take a hit away from Adam Davis for the third out of the inning. Loree ended his six innings of work by getting out of yet another jam in the sixth. Loree hit Justin Tordi with a pitch to load the bases after giving up singles to Corsaletti and Brian Leclerc, but he left unscathed when he got a double play grounder on a hot smash by Jeroloman to second base.

Florida Coach Pat McMahon was impressed with the Villanova defense, noting "they defended the field and made some outstanding plays" but he was equally impressed with Loree's showing. The 6-5 Villanova righthander worked his way out of a couple of tough situations by moving the ball around the plate and changing speeds well.

"He's got good velocity and good leverage," said McMahon of Loree. "He's got good offspeed pitches that he can throw anywhere in the count."

Loree and Friday night's starter, Nick Allen, who gave up only five Gator hits in seven and a third innings, were dominant. McMahon said, "Their starting pitchers have pitched the last two days as well as anybody I've seen since I've been here."

Villanova got to Florida starter Bryan Ball for four runs in the second inning, An infield single over the pitcher's mound and a walk set the stage for Allan Day to uncork his second three-run homer in as many days. Ball thought he had a third strike on Day but the umpire didn't give him the corner. The next pitch was up in the strike zone and Day lofted it into left field, deep enough where the wind was able to give it a boost and carry it over the fence.

"If you get the ball in the air here when it's windy it will travel further than usual but I made a bad pitch and the kid put a good swing on it out of the yard," said Ball, who got the win and improved his record to 3-0.

A single, stolen base and a Florida error gave Villanova its final run of the inning and a 4-1 lead. Ball escaped further trouble in the inning when he picked Molloy off first base for the third out.

Ball regained his composure off the bad inning to give the Gators a solid third and fourth inning, but he was touched for a run in the fifth when Corsaletti lost Derek Shunk's deep drive to left center field allowing the ball to bounce over the fence for a ground rule double that scored Cardillo. Ball gave up an infield single in the inning but he got a pair of groundouts to escape without further damage.

For his afternoon, Ball gave up seven hits but only three of them reached the outfield. He walked only one batter and struck out five.

"I just kept throwing the ball in the strike zone and the guys kept playing defense behind me," said Ball.

McMahon was pleased with the way that Ball battled back after the four-run second.

"Where he has continued to improve is that if people put up numbers he then regains his composure, throws the ball in the strike zone and lets our defense work, and that's a compliment to him, his work ethic and his competitiveness," said McMahon.

An error by Arcadia and a two-out double by Stephen Barton to right center field trimmed Villanova's margin to 5-2 in the fifth and set the stage for the seventh inning rally.

James Baxter replaced Loree in the seventh, but after getting the first out, he walked Brooks, hit Barton and walked Davis to load the bases. Baxter was pulled for Ted Augst, who was greeted by a towering drive by Corsaletti to straightaway center field that only a gust of wind kept in the park. Molloy made the catch for the second out but Brooks scored with Barton and Davis moving up. They came home when LaPorta smashed his double down the left field line. Leclerc followed with the game-winning hit, a single to center that brought home LaPorta.

With the lead secured, McMahon sat down Ball and brought in Darren O'Day to close. O'Day worked a perfect eighth, but gave up a leadoff single to center by Day in the top of the ninth. Dolbier sacrificed Day to second base, but that's when O'Day got nasty. He struck out Arcardia on four pitches for out two then struck out pinch-hitter Jim Wolff for the final out of the game to save the win for Florida.

O'Day, who entered the game with a 0.87 earned run average, has become Florida's closer, a role that McMahon says the big junior from Jacksonville has grown into.

"I think he's matured into that role and showing those signs of confidence," said McMahon. "Obviously in close ball games the little things are big ones and Darren likes the ball in that situation and we like seeing him there."

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