Gator Baseball Wins Hitter's Duel With FAMU

The Florida baseball team got quite a scare during its game against Florida A&M while most of the Gator nation was busy watching the basketball team battle Tennessee. No, FAMU didn't threaten to win. The Gators won the game 15-5, but that's almost an afterthought.

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All-American Matt LaPorta left the game in the third inning after straining an oblique muscle while swinging during an at bat, scaring the crowd of 2,891 Wednesday evening.

"I scared myself," LaPorta said.

LaPorta swung and missed, then bent over in visible pain. Team trainer John Barrett examined LaPorta, who insisted on finishing the plate appearance.

LaPorta injures himself; tries to walk it off

"I told coach Mac, 'Just let me get a hit off of this guy and I'll shut it down.'" LaPorta said. "We'll find out exactly what I did to it tomorrow. I iced it twice already, hopefully tomorrow and Friday I can rehab it."

Was it a good idea to finish the at bat, which resulted in a groundout to third base, even when he couldn't run to first base?

"Probably not," LaPorta joked after the game.

UF coach Pat McMahon was optimistic, despite the uncertainty about whether LaPorta will miss any playing time.

"Matt is day-to-day," McMahon said. "Obviously, if he can't go, it's an opportunity for another guy to step forward."

Prior to the injury, LaPorta hit a grand slam in the second inning to give the Gators a 4-2 lead.

"The first weekend against Cincinnati I was hitting balls like that, and guys were catching them at the warning track," LaPorta said. "I hit that ball tonight, and was like 'gosh,' but the outfielder kept going back and back."

Back indeed.

"I hit it straight up and it just kept going," LaPorta said. "I'm surprised it went that far. It looked like a changeup, maybe it was a slider, I don't know."

Whatever FAMU pitcher Blair Mercer threw, it landed out of McKethan Stadium after flying over the bleacher in left field.

To the delight of McMahon, Florida's offense awakened for six runs on three hits in the second inning.

"We answered the call," McMahon said. "They put up numbers, and so did we. That was important to me.

"Our offensive production in the second inning was with two outs. We put ourselves in position to score and were productive. Those types of things, constant bombardment is very important."

Florida center fielder Gavin Dickey batted 2-for-4 with four RBIs, including a triple in the second inning, but it was the single he hit in the fourth inning.

A broken-bat single.

Dickey drove in Brian Jeroloman and Brian Leclerc when his bar broke in half, sending the barrel down the third base line and the ball through the left side of the infield. All of the players on the field paused for a moment, bewildered by the spectacle of a metal bat breaking in two

Gavin Dickey slides into third for a rare triple

"It kinda caught me off guard," Dickey said. "I don't know what happened, I felt like I squared the ball up. I hit it on the barrel, it just snapped in half. It's not something you see every day. It's happened at practice, but I've never seen it in a game."

Dickey, a Tallahassee native, improved his batting average to.308 after the performance over his home-town opponent.

"I'm just trying to hit line drives," Dickey said. "Coach Fleetwood and coach Parenton work with me every day. I'm hitting every single day, not a day goes by where I'm not trying to improve."

Dickey was hit by a pitch for the fourth time in two games after being plunked three times against Miami during the weekend sweep of the Hurricanes, but said he doesn't mind leaning into a pitch to help the team.

"It's just something we practice," Dickey said. "It's a big part of our team gameplan. Coach Mac teaches it, we work on it everyday. Everybody on the team is buying into it this year and we have a lot of HBPs."

Sophomore Josh Edmondson (2-0) threw two scoreless innings and established a career-high with four strikeouts to collect the victory.

"We went out there trying to throw fastballs," Edmondson said. "We tried to work ahead, but we fell behind in the count a lot and that hurt us."

Junior transfer Patrick Thompson allowed four hits in one inning, while starter Jarrod Langois and freshman classmate Chas Spottswood allowed three hits in two innings. Edmondson said the hits were part of a learning curve.

"As a new guy, you try to do too much," Edmondson said. "You come in, you try to overthrow, you try to spot everything exactly perfect. But, you've just got to go out there and throw strikes. You do learn it throwing against a very good offense everyday in practice. You learn how to pitch. It's something that takes a while to get a feel for. The more experience you have, the better.

Gavin Dickey's broken bat in action...

"Once you get to this level, everybody can hit a 90-fastball. You can't blow it by anybody unless you are throwing 98 or 99 miles per hour. You have it get it in the strike zone, and the more movement you have on the ball, the better you'll be. That's what coach (Ross) Jones tries to teach us.

The Gators allowed two walks in the victory, something Edmondson said the team needs to work on.

"At Miami, we had one game where we walked four guys and all four of them scored," Edmondson said. "You've just got to get the ball on the ground and let the guys make plays behind you."

Edmondson has now pitched in five of the eight games Florida has played.

"It feels like they are more confident in me throwing now," Edmondson said. "I didn't get much playing time last year. I sat and watched a lot. I watched Connor Falkenbach, I watched Darren O'Day every day. He's my throwing partner in every drill, we run together. He's been a real good mentor. I feel a lot more confident out there, it feels a lot more natural."

Florida A&M's first three hitters of the game reached base against Langlois as the visitors built a 2-0 lead. Junior Stanley Gnat opened the game with a single into left field and senior Chris Lee followed with an RBI double down the left-field line. A wild pitch advanced Lee to third and sophomore Corey McFaden punched a single to give the visitors a two-run advantage. McFaden moved into scoring position with his second stolen base of the season and took third on a grounder by sophomore Allen DeCambra but was stranded to end the frame.

McMahon said that the inexperienced pitchers benefit from appearances in midweek games and enable him to evaluate pitching staff.

"For a young freshman stepping out there, it's hard to start a ballgame," McMahon said. "You have to get your feet under control. Florida A&M is a very aggressive offensive club, they are going to hit fastballs in the zone. You have to pitch to advantage counts. You've got to be able to repeat them. (Langois) has got a good breaking ball. He's got to learn that it's not just fastballs, it's located fastballs. From a pitching perspective, we have a lot of guys out there that are going to help the ballclub."

The Gators answered in the bottom of the first with a two-run double by Jeroloman to even the score. Davis and Chris Petrie had back-to-back singles before Mercer (0-2, 8 H, 8 R) retired LaPorta on an infield fly. Jeroloman hit second double of the year to drive in both runners.

Freshman Chas Spottswood pitched for two innings tonight

Spottswood took over for Langlois (2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 K) in the third, but Decambra came through with a two-out RBI single to make the score 8-3.

Three straight singles by FAMU to open the sixth chased junior reliever Patrick Thompson, who had worked a scoreless fifth in which he allowed one hit. With the based loaded, senior Kevin Clethan greeted Edmondson with a sacrifice fly to center. However, the submariner prevented further damage with consecutive strikeouts of Gnat and Lee to hold the score at 10-4.

McMahon was pleased with Edmondson's performance, saying the pitcher is filling a role left open by departed players.

"Josh has a great presence on the mound," McMahon said. "He located his pitches. It was good to get Patrick Thompson out there. He can be a good deception lefthander for us. Kris Gawriluk, he can pitch. He comes from (former Gator) Timmy Touma's program down in Daytona. He has a good mound presence for us also."

UF increased its margin to 15-4 with five runs on three hits in the eighth. Facing FAMU junior Matt Davis, Leclerc drew a leadoff walk, Dickey was hit by a pitch and senior pinch hitter Stephen Barton earned a base on balls to fill the bags and force a pitching change. UF freshman pinch hitter Cody Neer stroked a two-run single off junior Austin Dill and a flyout by Gaski pushed Barton to third. Davis' infield hit brought across another run.

Senior Chris Woods celebrated his 22nd birthday with a single to load the bases again. Junior Austin Pride notched his first RBI as a Gator with a groundout and a passed ball enabled Davis to score the hosts' final run.

Gnat began the ninth with a walk against freshman Matt Hightower and stole second. A base-hit by Lee gave the Rattlers runners on the corners, but the southpaw countered by striking out McFaden. A balk by Hightower allowed Gnat to score and Lee to occupy second. However, the left-hander closed out FAMU by retiring Mazzeo and Decambra.

Four players turned in multiple-hit outings for McMahon's team: Davis (2-for-3, three runs, three walks), Jeroloman (2-for-4, two RBI, two runs), Dickey and Petrie (2-for-4). The Rattlers tallied 12 hits against UF's six pitchers, as Lee, Mazzeo, McFaden and Elvin Millan chipped in with two apiece.

Despite the offensive performance, McMahon was less-than-pleased when he spoke to the team on the field.

"There's some things that we expect out of our ballclub about the demands within ourselves on the team," McMahon said. "There are so many opportunities for the players to get better. I just wanted to make some points about working hard one though 27, doing whatever it takes to be successful, who wants to step forward to lead on the mound. It's opportunities to get better and to achieve more than you think you are capable of doing."

McMahon expressed his gratitude towards the crowd that stayed at the baseball game when the basketball game began.

"We have such a great Gator fan base," McMahon said. "We're really appreciative of the fan base and their following. It means a lot to our players. It is a significant home-field advantage when there is a bunch of people in the stands wearing orange and blue, screaming for your ballclub, cheering the guys on. We're very appreciative of that."

The Gators will welcome No. 12 Missouri (4-2), Ohio State (0-0) and Wake Forest (3-3) to McKethan Stadium this weekend for The Pepsi Baseball Classic, a three-day round-robin event. The Buckeyes and Demon Deacons will start the event on Friday at 2 p.m., with the hosts facing the Tigers at 6:30 p.m. Senior right-hander Bryan Ball (Punta Gorda, Fla.) (2-0, 0.75 ERA) will start for Florida against Missouri junior All-American Max Scherzer (1-0, 1.50 ERA), the 2005 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.

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