BASEBALL: Gators Outslug Bama, 9-8

It wasn't Ali vs. Frazier, but it was a classic good collegiate baseball game that offered a little bit of everything as fifth-ranked Florida (26-8, 9-4) defeated #18 Alabama, 9-8, in front of 2,886 at The Mac Friday night. The Beasts of the East lead the Best in the West 1-0 in this outstanding weekend series. The Gators now find themselves in sole possession of first place in the SEC East as Vanderbilt soundly defeated South Carolina 11-3.

"It's good to be out in the lead, but when you're in the lead everybody's gunning for you," said Gator shortstop Justin Tordi. "It's a long season; we've still got plenty of weekends ahead of us. We've just got to come and win every series we play and we'll be fine."

This game had a little bit of everything:

* The two teams combined to rip 25 hits, score 17 runs, and commit a total of six errors. Florida had 14 hits and two errors. Alabama had 11 hits and four errors.

* There was a bizarre decision by Alabama skipper Jim Wells way back in the fifth which gave the Gators the decisive ninth run they needed to win this game.

* The all-around solid play of Tordi who went four for four, drove in three runs, and made several outstanding defensive plays was a highlight for Florida fans.

* Finally, the power exhibited by the Charlotte County duo, Matt LaPorta and Jeff Corsaletti. Each sent offerings by Alabama starter T. J. Large out of The Mac and off the right field scoreboard. Both players drove in two runs. Corso went three for five in the contest.

Florida took an early lead \with two runs in the second. LaPorta reached on a error by Alabama shortstop Cale Iorg, who committed two of the Crimson Tide's four errors. LaPorta moved over on Brandon McArthur's single to right field. Large loaded the bases when he plunked catcher Brian Jeroloman, the 50th time this season a Gator has reached base by being hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, Tordi singled up the middle to score LaPorta and McArthur.

The Gators scored three more in the third. Corsaletti led off the inning as he bounced a drive off of the scoreboard in right to give the Gators a 3-0 lead. Adam Davis singled to left field and quickly stole second. LaPorta then ripped a shot over the right field fence to give Florida commanding 5-0 lead.

Reliever Connor Falkenbach (2-1) picked up the win in relief of starter Tommy Boss, who ran into trouble after holding the Crimson Tide scoreless through the first three innings. Boss allowed just two hits during the first three innings.

Trailing, 5-0, and with Boss cruising along, Alabama (25-11, 8-5) battled back to score four runs with two outs in the fourth inning.

Evan Bush took Boss deep over the right field wall for Bama's first run of the game. Gabe Scott followed with a double down the left field line. Kody Valverde also ripped a double, which scored Scott. Morrow Thomley reached on an error by Florida third baseman Brandon McArthur. Iorg then laced a single up the middle to score Valverde. Florida Coach Pat McMahon went to pen for Falkenbach, who promptly gave up a double to third baseman Rocky Scelfo. That scored Thomley and the Tide had closed the gap to 5-4.

Falkenbach gave up four hits and three earned runs in 2.2 innings before he gave way to closer Darren O'Day. O'Day pitched 2.2 shutout innings against Bama, which had rallied against both Boss and Falkenbach to make the Florida faithful a little nervous.

Alabama Coach Jim Wells made a woeful decision the bottom of the fifth, opting to stay with starter T. J. Large, who was clearly struggling. With one out, Brian LeClerc doubled to left. Two batters later, Brian Jeroloman reached on an error, which scored LeClerc. Tordi singled to score Jeroloman. Designated hitter Stephen Barton then singled, moving Tordi into scoring position.

Wells had lefthander Brent Carter ready in the Alabama bullpen, but stayed with the right hander Large against Jeff Corsaletti a lefthander who, by the way, is the SEC's second leading hitter. The move, or lack of it, backfired miserably as Corsaletti lifted a single to score the Gators pivotal ninth run of the game.

"I was definitely surprised (to see Large remain in to pitch to him)," Corsaletti stated. "I was very surprised. I saw him (Carter) warming up in the bullpen. I told Gavin (Dickey) on deck that if (Stephen) Barton gets on there's no way they leave Large in. He gets on, I get in the box and I was surprised they left him in. The first pitch was a fastball that I should've hit out. I should have had two home runs tonight. I'll take whatever, though. They gave me a fastball and I hit it to the four hole and it worked out."

Alabama scored three more in the top of the seventh. McMahon once again went to the bullpen, where O'Day closed things out in fine fashion picking up his third save of the season.

The final two outs of the game were grounders to short which Tordi fielded cleanly but he almost had a bobble on the second one because O'Day surprised him by yelling out loud.

"I was yelling out of excitement to tell you the truth," O'Day recalled. "I think I said something like 'yippie' or something. It was a big out."

Arkansas also beat Tennessee 4-1 in Friday night action to tie Alabama for first place in the SEC West..

"We came out strong, but we had the five to nothing lead, but you know in this league that's not big at all," Tordi said. "They're the best team in the West right now and we knew that we had to go out and play all nine innings. After four innings, this game wasn't over. We just kept fighting and kept battling."

The teams will meet again tomorrow at 4 p.m. in The Mac. The Gators will pitch Alan Horne (2-2, 4.70 ERA) who was sensational against Georgia last weekend in Athens. Alabama is expected to start lefthander Wade LeBlanc (2-1, 3.21). LeBlanc is rehabilitating a shoulder injury and will be on a limited pitch count.

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