BASEBALL: Locke Leads Gators Past UNC-A, 8-1

If Pat McMahon's breathing a sigh of relief this morning it's for good reason. His Florida Gators won their Tuesday night matchup with UNC-Asheville at McKethan Stadium, 8-1, but that was more or less expected of the nation's sixth ranked team facing a team with a losing record. What has McMahon smiling is the fact that for the first time all season, the Gators made it all the way through a game without a single error, and he got six quality innings out of a lefthanded pitcher.

"You can't give other teams freebies," said McMahon after the Gators raised their record to 12-3 with a well-pitched, well-played before a crowd of 1,418. "You give a team more than three outs per inning and you leave yourself vulnerable to big innings."

There were no big innings for the Bulldogs. That was because freshman lefty Stephen Locke and senior righthander Connor Falkenbach combined for a four-hitter. Locke, out of Tampa King, went the first six innings, allowing only three hits and the only run of the game while striking out six. Falkenbach came on in relief, throwing three shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four.

Getting the innings from a lefty was particularly pleasing for McMahon who knows that down the line in this 56-game season he's going to need solid lefthanded pitching because "There are certain clubs that we feel lefthanders are going to match up better against because of their swings and offensive approach."

Locke, who raised his record to 2-0 and dropped his ERA to 1.84, threw 80 pitches. He got into some trouble in the first and second innings, but settled down after that. He gave up a fourth inning home run to the Bulldogs' Nathan Durham, but retired the final eight batters he faced.

"After that home run we threw the exact same pitch to the next batter and he showed no fear at all," said catcher Brian Jeroloman, whose two run homer in the second inning gave the Gators all the runs they would need. "He's an outstanding freshman pitcher."

Locke said he had problems in the early going because he was trying to throw the ball too hard.

"I just had to relax and slow down a little bit," he said. "When I try to throw too hard, my fast ball flattens out and it doesn't get any movement or sink on it. Once I stopped trying to throw too hard, I thought I threw the ball pretty well."

Falkenbach had similar problems in a couple of rough outings over the weekend against Villanova, but his difficulties were caused by a minor mechanical flaw which he got corrected.

"Just a little mechanical problem," he said. "I made the adjustment and that let me get more downward movement on the ball. The way I was throwing over the weekend I wasn't getting any movement. My fast ball flattened out and it was pretty hittable."

McMahon was proud of the way Falkenbach battled back from his tough outings to pitch quality innings, especially since the righthanded reliever was up all night Monday sick.

"He was up all night and sick during the day," said McMahon, "but he stepped up and said I want to help the team. What a quality young man he is."

With Locke and Falkenbach throwing well and Florida playing flawless defense, it didn't require much offensive help for the Gators to put away UNC-A, now 3-6. After Jeff Tordi singled in the second inning, Jeroloman hammered a fast ball over the right field wall for his second homer of the year to stake Florida to a 2-0 lead. Both Tordi and Jeroloman had three hits each to lead the Florida attack.

Tordi had a run-scoring single in the third inning to score Jeff Corsaletti, who had walked and taken second on a wild pitch. He also delivered a suicide squeeze bunt to bring home Matt LaPorta during a four-run seventh.

Jeroloman's third hit of the game was a high fly ball that somehow dropped in front of the UNC-A right fielder for a single, bringing home Tordi.

"That's the funny thing about baseball," said Jeroloman. "You hit one hard as you can and the right fielder makes a diving catch over the shoulder, then you hit a little blooper and it falls in for a hit. I think you appreciate the bloopers more because you get a hit that you shouldn't get."

Tordi raised his batting average 40 points to .309 with his three hits and Jeroloman went from .216 to .255.

Jeroloman, named to the Johnny Bench (nation's top collegiate catcher) watch list earlier in the day, also threw out his fifteenth runner of the season in the first inning when he nailed Charles Pippit at second for the third out of the inning.

The Gators saw their team ERA drop to 3.34 with the solid outing from Locke and Falkenbach. Falkenbach will see most of his action in long relief this season although he can be a spot starter in emergency situations.

"He's blessed with a rubber arm," said Jeroloman. "You can just about throw him every day."

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