BASEBALL: Gators Hammer Michigan State, 17-1

The Florida Gators took on a new look when they began their three-game series with the Michigan State Spartans at McKethan Stadium Friday night. Three losses and a tight game in the previous four Friday nights gave Coach Pat McMahon a chance to shake things up so he played around with the batting order and changed his pitching rotation. The Spartans probably wish he'd kept things status quo.

The new-look Friday night lineup saw Jeff Corsaletti and Stephen Barton swap spots in the batting order. Corsaletti moved from his normal three spot to leadoff and Barton dropped down in the order plus moved over to third base. Gavin Dickey moved into Barton's familiar left field position. Alan Horne, who's been the Friday night starter three of the past four weeks, gave way to Bryan Ball. The changes got the desired results as the Gators hammered the Spartans, 17-1, before a crowd of 1,673.

The Gators (13-4) face Michigan State (5-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. with senior righthander Tommy Boss (2-0) getting the start for Florida.

Corsaletti adapted well to the leadoff spot, delivering two singles, a double, a walk and two runs batted in as he raised his team leading batting average to .448.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do with Jeff," said McMahon, who indicated that his senior center fielder will most likely hit in the leadoff position once again on Saturday. "He does a really good job of working deep into pitch counts and hitting the ball to all areas of the field."

Barton played flawlessly at third plus he contributed to the offense with a sacrifice fly and a sacrifice bunt. Dickey beat out a bunt for a single, walked and scored a run.

Ball pitched a career high eight innings to improve his record to 4-0. He gave up just six hits, walked only two and struck out three as he lowered his earned run average to 1.34. Ball had his best good sinker going, getting 19 of 24 outs on ground balls.

Ball had only two troublesome innings. He gave up three singles in the second inning before he got a double play grounder to end Michigan State's threat with only one run. In the fourth, he gave up a walk and a single, but he worked his way out of that jam with consecutive ground ball outs.

The change from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights had no effect whatsoever on Ball.

"The lights are on so that's about the only thing different," said Ball, a junior from Punta Gorda who has become the staff ace. "All I want is a chance to pitch."

McMahon got what he needed from Ball, a lot of innings and a lot of ground ball outs.

"When you're throwing like that, the guys are ready to play behind you," said McMahon, who praised his team for an error-less game in the field.

The Gators hammered out 14 hits against five Michigan State pitchers, taking advantage of eight walks, four hit batters and five Spartan errors. The Gators got the only two runs they would need to win in the bottom of the first inning off Michigan State starter Tim Day.

Corsaletti led off the inning with a single off the glove of third baseman Steve Gerstenberger. Day hit Barton and one out later, hit Matt LaPorta. Justin Tordi delivered a two-run single to center that gave Florida the only runs the Gators needed.

In the second inning Florida added four runs to extend its lead to 6-1. Jared Kubin led off with a single to center and moved to second when Dickey beat out an attempted sacrifice for a hit. Corsaletti doubled to center field to bring home Dickey and Kubin. Adam Davis reached on an error, then stole second. Barton brought home Corsaletti with a sacrifice fly and Davis scored on a boot of a ground ball by LaPorta.

LaPorta doubled to lead off the Florida fourth. Two outs later, Brian Jeroloman walked and both runners came home when Kubin tripled to the deepest part of the park in right center field.

Florida scored seven times in the fifth courtesy of three home runs including a grand slam by Brian Leclerc. Walks to Corsaletti, Adam Davis and Barton loaded the bases for Leclerc who hammered a fast ball over the right field fence for his fifth homer of the season. After a walk to Justin Tordi, Brian Jeroloman launched his third homer of the year to right field and Jared Kubin followed that with the first home run of his Gator career. The back-to-back homers were the first for the Gators since the 2003 season.

Kubin, a freshman designated hitter from Oakton, Virginia, had the first three-hit game of his Florida career.

While the Gators were hot at the plate, Ball kept the Michigan State hitters beating the ball into the ground with one sinking fast ball after another.

"I had trouble locating the ball in the first and second inning but once I got a feel for it, I started keeping the ball low and letting my defense work behind me," said Ball. "Our defense just kept making great plays behind me."

Florida's team ERA dropped to an outstanding 3.25 and the Gators improved their team batting average to .298. Florida now has 21 home runs in 17 games.

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