BASEBALL: Gators blank Cincinnati 10-0

Four double plays laid waste to any hopes Cincinnati had of staying in the game as top-ranked Florida shut out the Bearcats 10-0. A terrific crowd of 4,488 braved chilly temperatures at McKethan Stadium to welcome the defending SEC Champions back into action.

It was a game that featured some stellar defensive plays by both squads. The Florida infield isn't the only new hardhat area. The Mac has been reduced to a capacity of 4,000 until the new construction projects are completed. However, shortstop Adam Davis, second baseman Brandon McArthur, third baseman Matt Gaski made a solid, if not at times, spectacular debut in front of the overflow crowd.

Davis and McArthur sent the visitors back to the dugout with fine glove work and almost precision turns in the second, third, fourth, and sixth innings. Starting pitcher Bryan Ball (1-0) was the grateful recipient of their play. The junior gave up three hits and a walk in the first four innings. The DP's wiped out any threat and subsequent thoughts the Bearcats had of becoming the second team in the nation to upset the top ranked team. (Texas was swept by the University of San Diego last week.)

"They were great," a smiling Ball said, referring to the defense. "It's a privilege having them behind you. They make you look good. They played well. They always have and I'm sure they always will. It's good to have those guys back there."

"There's always nerves on the first night," Davis said. "That's the biggest thing that you have to deal with. No matter how long you play this game, it's always special to come out here on the first night and get started on a new season. You just never know what to expect. Coach Mac talks about how he wants double plays to be routine for us. It keeps pitch counts down and turns the tide a little bit in the game of the momentum."

Offensively, it took the Gators two innings before they batted around for the first time in 2006. Davis and McArthur led the team at the plate as well. Davis went three for five and drove in three runs. BMac was two for five with a pair of runs batted in. Florida pieced together runs in third, forth, seventh, and eighth innings as well. In doing so, the Gators notched their first shutout since another 10-0 victory over Michigan State on March 13, 2005.

Opening Day at McKethan Stadium...

"I'm very proud of our club's effort tonight," Coach Pat McMahon said. "I think that a key to the game today was the opportunity to turn four double plays, which was huge for us. For the most part I thought we defended the field very well. There are so many areas to improve in, I think it was a good start for our ballclub, but we've got to get better in so many ways."

Ball started strong, striking out Cincinnati leadoff hitter LaFringe Hayes on five pitches. He allowed two singles later in the inning before Davis threw out Logan Parker on a fielder's choice to end the threat.

"I was pretty wild tonight," Ball said. "I'd throw one wild and then one good. I was kind of up and down. I've got to locate better. I'll work on that in the bullpen this week and get ready for next weekend."

Cincinnati starter Steve Blevins (0-1) struck out the side in the top of the first. He did allow a single to Adam Davis, but was obviously unharmed. Such would not be the case in subsequent innings.

Florida jump started its' offense after Ball and the double play combo of Davis and McArthur made short work of the Bearcats lineup in the second inning.

Right fielder Brian LeClerc led off the bottom half of the second with a double to left and moved to third on an error by shortstop Adam Yeager. He scored on McArthur's grounder to second for the Gators first run of the new season. Third baseman Matt Gaski walked and moved to third on left fielder Gavin Dickey's single to short. Center fielder Chris Woods walked to load the bases. With two outs, Davis ripped a double through the gap and scored Gaski and Dickey. First baseman Matt LaPorta followed with a single to left field that scored Woods. The Gators loaded the bases once again, but failed to score, leaving three men on base.

Florida struck again in the third. McArthur led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Blevins. Gaski then walked on four straight pitches. Two batters later, Woods laced a single down the left field line, scoring BMac. Just as he had an inning before, Davis ripped a two-out double down the line in right, scoring Gaski. LaPorta was intentionally walked loading the bases for catcher Brian Jeroloman. However, he struck out as the Gators once again left the bases loaded.

With one out, McArthur once again led off the inning with a hit, this time by depositing a shot over the left field stands. The Gators picked up their eighth run of the game courtesy of a Woods' double.

The Gators were seemingly robbed of monster blasts by McArthur, who had already homered, and LaPorta. McArthur's hit was pulled back in to The Mac by Bearcats centerfielder LaFringe Hayes, who resembled Willie Mays Hayes with a catch that was straight from the movies. LaPorta hit the ball just south of a lunar orbit, but like McArthur's, the blustery winds kept it in the ballpark. Had the Shands' helicopter been flying over- it would have returned to the pad with a dent.

"I felt it was to tell you the truth off the bat," Brandon McArthur said of a second ball he ripped to the deep outfield. "I hit it pretty well. I hit it pretty solid. But, after seeing LaPorta's ball that we thought was going to hit over the O'Dome and into The Swamp. That didn't go out, I wasn't quite sure. But, I thought that I had gotten it."

With Ball hitting 84 pitches, the Gators went to the pen in the sixth.

As McMahon alluded to, not everything went according to plan. Sophomore reliever Michael Branham struggled mightily. The 6-3 right hander had trouble locating the zone. He threw ten pitches, among them eight balls, while walking both batters he faced. I would be surprised if he didn't have another opportunity very soon.

"Branham came out there and he struggled," Balls said. "For us to be successful, he knows that he has to pitch this year. I kind of pulled him aside after the fact and said- Look man, if there was ever a good time for something like that to happen, get it out of the way now. Luckily, it didn't hurt us. But, he knows that. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's going to fine. The other guys pitched their butt off. They pitched well."

Josh Edmondson came on in relief of Branham and got Jon DeLuca to hit a 2-1 pitch to Davis who threw on to McArthur, who spun the ball to LaPorta for Florida's fourth double play of the evening. Two batters later, Jack Nelson hit a liner to right, where LeClerc made an outstanding stab and catch to end the inning. Edmondson registered three strikeouts and three ground outs among the next six batters he faced.

Southpaw Matt Hightower closed the game out by striking out two Cincinnati hitters in the ninth.

Offensively, Florida struggled leaving 15 men on base. That will certainly be addressed before by Coach McMahon before the first pitch tomorrow.

The top ranked Gators return to action tomorrow at 4pm against Cincinnati. The two teams will conclude the opening weekend series with a contest at noon on Sunday.

Notes: Former Florida players Jeff Corsaletti, Tommy Boss, Connor Falkenbach, Mike Pete, and Alan Horne ( I believe?) threw out the second pitch. The first pitch was thrown out by Melissa of Sun Sports.

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