BASEBALL: McArthur Helps Gators To Sweep Of 'Cats

Coach Pat McMahon remembers all too vividly the days and nights when he sat with Brandon McArthur's family and friends at Shands Hospital during that first week of November, 2003. He shared their tears and shed plenty of his own as they prayed and offered each other comfort while doctors raced to save Brandon's life. One surgery after another was performed to relieve the pressure on a brain that was severely injured from a punch that McArthur never saw.

"At first, we didn't even know if he was going to live, and once he pulled through, we just hoped and prayed he could have a normal life," said McMahon Sunday afternoon after McArthur had delivered a two-run home run that helped the Florida Gators take an 11-6 Southeastern Conference win over the Kentucky Wildcats at McKethan Stadium. "The fact that he's out here now, playing baseball at the level he's playing is such an inspiration to all of us and it is a testament to him, the fine young man he is, to his wonderful family, his friends and his faith. For me to see him doing so well… well, I just can't tell you how that makes me feel. What a wonderful kid he is."

McArthur was the gem of an outstanding recruiting class that McMahon had put together at the University of Florida in 2003. He had been drafted in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Minnesota Twins, but he elected to be a Gator instead of going pro right out of high school. Just a couple of months into his Gator experience, he was in the hospital, fighting for his life. The 2004 baseball season was out of the question, and McMahon admits that he questioned if McArthur would ever be able to play baseball again.

"The injuries were so severe," said McMahon. "Baseball just didn't seem so important and regardless of how things unfolded at that time in his life, we all tried to focus on what's at the end of it. We wanted to make sure that he didn't leave anything unturned and that he was able to do everything humanly possible in the rehab process to get back to a normal life. We knew that if he could go through all that hard work and then there is an opportunity to play baseball again, we'd take advantage of it but first things first."

McArthur went through the pain and struggles of rehabilitation. He wanted to play baseball again although he wasn't really sure that he would ever be able to play the game at a high level again.

"I don't think there was ever a time when I didn't think I was going to be able to play again," said McArthur, who raised his batting average to .288 with a 6-12 performance in the three games against Kentucky, "but there were times when I didn't know if I could be successful again."

When the season began, McArthur struggled at the plate and in the field. Slowly but surely he's regained his confidence at the plate. In the field, he is still learning the nuances of playing third base so there are certain plays that become an adventure. During those early games when he was struggling, his teammates rallied behind him, never letting him get down on himself. They understood how close he had come to death and how long and difficult the rehab process had been.

"When you have a bad game out here and things aren't going your way you can either crawl up and be by yourself or you can get pulled through by this team," he said. "They pull everyone through the struggles and through the successful days, too."

He's put together an eight-game hitting streak and he's got 10 hits in his last 24 at bats (.417 average), but the power had been missing until Sunday when he lined a Kalen Gibson fast ball that was a bit too much inside over the wall in left center field. The Gators were trailing Kentucky 3-1 in the fifth inning when Brian Jeroloman got on base with a one-out walk. McArthur came to the plate, guessing that Gibson was going to try to pitch him inside.

"He had thrown a pitch inside my at bat before and I figured he was going to come in again," said McArthur. "He did. I guessed right and I got the barrel of the bat on the ball."

That home run was the wakeup call for a Florida offense which had put 30 runs on the scoreboard in the previous two games against the Wildcats. Jeff Corsaletti followed McArthur's homer with a single up the middle. Three straight walks brought Corsaletti in with the go-ahead run.

The Gators took the lead, 6-3, in the bottom of the sixth on a monster two-run homer from Corsaletti, a towering blast that left the stadium at its deepest point, landing approximately 430-feet from home plate.

"It's kind of ironic," said Corsaletti, who raised his batting average to .462 with a 4-5 performance Sunday. "I told Steve (Barton) when I was on deck that if this guy gave me a pitch from the middle on in I was going to turn on it and hit it out of the yard. I was fortunate enough to get a pitch, a slider middle of the plate, and I just turned on it."

Kentucky came back to tie the game at 6-6 in the top of the seventh on an infield hit, an error and a two-run home run by John Shelby, but Florida answered with five runs in the bottom eighth.

Bryson Barber walked to lead off the inning and he moved to second on a balk. Chris Woods came in to pinch-run and he advanced to third when Jeroloman's high pop to left field got lost in the sun and fell for a base hit. One out later, Corsaletti singled to right field to score Woods. Barton followed with a single to center field to load the bases.

Adam Davis hit a sharp comebacker to pitcher Brock Baber who thought there were two out so he threw to first base instead of going home to get the force. Matt LaPorta followed that mental error by launching a Baber fast ball over the wall in dead center field for a three-run home run.

The home run was the eleventh of the season for LaPorta and his third in three games against Kentucky. LaPorta had four hits in the series, three for home runs, and he drove in 10 runs.

"He gave me a fast ball, knee high and a little bit away," said LaPorta, now with 25 career homers at UF. "I'm seeing the ball really good right now and it really looks big."

Darren O'Day picked up the victory for the Gators with one and two-thirds innings of one-hit relief. In raising his record to 5-2, O'Day lowered his earned run average to 1.27.

The win improved the Gators to 6-3 in the SEC Eastern Division, 23-7 overall, and though McMahon was happy with the sweep against the Wildcats, McArthur's performance helped put things in a better perspective.

"I'm very happy for Brandon for so many different reasons and obviously this is a very special day," said McMahon. "First of all, it's miraculous that he's able to play the game of baseball again and two, he's worked so hard to get back here. He's had so many people behind him …his family is a wonderful group of people … he's got great friends, and his teammates have been there with him every step to help him through what he's been through. Seeing him today and knowing what he's gone through puts so many things of this world in perspective."

BASEBALL NOTES: The Gators don't have a midweek game this week. They don't play again until Friday when they travel to Athens to face Georgia. The next home series is the following weekend against Alabama…. Corsaletti has hit safely in 27 of the 29 games he's played this season …Corsaletti has a nine-game hitting streak. In SEC games, he's hitting .405… Alan Horne started Sunday's game for Florida. He went four and one-third innings, gave up five hits and walked four. He struck out a season high seven batters… Florida's three relief pitchers didn't issue a single walk… Florida had 41 hits and 41 runs in the three games against the Wildcats, improving the team batting average to .307 and the scoring average to nine runs per game.

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