Scherzer did his part to shut down a Florida lineup that was minus All-American Matt LaPorta, last year's NCAA home run champion. LaPorta is day to day with a pulled oblique muscle suffered against Florida A&M Wednesday night. It's unlikely he will play Saturday against Ohio State.
Missouri's hitters gave Scherzer plenty of support, hammering out 22 hits including 15 from the top four slots in the batting order. Missouri scored two in the first and five in the second off Florida starter Bryan Ball (2-1), pretty much putting the game on ice early for the Tigers.
Scherzer was perfect through three innings, breezing through the Florida lineup with a dominating fast ball and pinpoint control. Only four Gators reached base against Scherzer, who went 9-4 with a microscopic 1.86 ERA in 2005. He gave up a leadoff fourth inning single to Stephen Barton, a walk to Bryson Barber in the fifth, and a home run by Barton and an infield single by Adam Davis in the sixth.
"I think he's an outstanding pitcher," said Florida Coach Pat McMahon. "I really like the way he competes. I really like his tempo and his patterns. He's an outstanding competitor but we knew that coming into the ball game. He can really really pitch."
A single by Zane Taylor and back to back doubles by Hunter Mense and Jacob Priday got Missouri off to a 2-0 first inning lead. In the second inning, the Tigers got five straight one-out hits including singles from Trevor Helms, Taylor, Mense and Priday, the top four hitters in the Missouri lineup. Two Florida errors kept the inning going, dooming Ball to one of the earliest exits in his Florida pitching career.
Ball, who came into the game with a 0.75 ERA, was roughed up for nine hits and seven earned runs in one and two-thirds innings. Ball relies on great control and a sinking fast ball when he's on top of his game, but Friday night the ball was jumping off the Missouri bats.
"I think if you asked Bryan he would tell you he was overthrowing a little bit," said McMahon. "Obviously he was overthrowing and he didn't locate as well as he would like and they took advantage of it. Give Missouri a lot of credit. They had a great approach and they did a great job swinging the bat."
Missouri got a single run in the fourth on a John McKee home run to left field off Ron Gawriluk and the Tigers added four in the fifth off Matt Hightower. Two Florida errors contributed to a two-run Missouri sixth off Chas Spottswood. Spottswood pitched a scoreless seventh, giving way to David Hurst, who shut the Tigers down in the eighth and ninth.
It was the top of Missouri's lineup that really did the damage against the Gators. Helms and Taylor, in the one and two slots, both had four hits. Mense had two hits and three RBI hitting third and Priday, who came into the game hitting just .200, broke out of his season starting mini-slump with two doubles, three singles and three RBI in six trips to the plate.
"I really like their approach offensively," said McMahon. "I thought they swung the bats as well as I've seen in a long time. They're well prepared. They're a veteran and talented club. They've got a very nice ball club."
Barton led off the sixth with a home run, his first since February 15, 2004, a shot off the scoreboard in right field. McMahon was encouraged by Barton's offensive performance, noting that it is very important for the Gators to get solid contributions from the senior from Miami. Coming into the game, Barton was 0-9 for the season.
"Stephen Barton saw the ball well," said McMahon. "For us to be a good ball club Stephen Barton has to have a big role in that. I'm really proud of him and his work. He hasn't sat on the bench and felt sorry for himself. He's worked extra and that's good."
The Gators got two runs in the eighth off Missouri reliever Rick Zagone. Chris Petrie led off the inning by reaching on an error and he advanced to third on a line drive double in the left field gap by David Cash. Matt Gaski's ground out brought Petrie home and Greg Quatrino's ground out scored Cash.
In the ninth, Cody Neer doubled to center field with one out and Gavin Dickey followed with his third homer of the year, a blast over the scoreboard in right field that closed out Florida's scoring.
Although McMahon was displeased with the final score, he was pleased with the way the Gators continued to play hard throughout the game.
"As games unfold like this and I haven't been on the short end of games like this with that run differential very often and we do not like or accept that but what's important to me and critical is effort and playing 27 outs," he said. "When we were down a bunch of runs I said 'Guys I'm going to check some things out.'
"You watch how our guys get the ball around the infield, watch how we get on and off the field, watch our catchers throw between pitches and that's regardless of the score. It's easy when you're down a bunch to feel sorry for yourself if things aren't happening. If you keep playing hard and you keep running our better innings were the last innings. Unfortunately we didn't keep the game close enough to be successful that way but to me that's an outstanding sign because that's a character check."