Gators gear up for Alabama

Just when the Gator baseball team started to feel a little good about themselves, they take a tough road trip to No. 1 Vanderbilt and get swept. In what turned out to be a somewhat humbling series, Vandy outscored the Gators 40-12.

This weekend, the Gators (23-23, 10-11 SEC) have a chance to get back on track, hosting Alabama (26-20, 10-11) at McKethan Stadium. It's been a difficult tough week, getting ready for the Tide. The Gators had to deal with off-the-field distractions, and they'll also have to focus with all the graduation events going on around the stadium this weekend.

"We're in the middle of exams so we're practicing around exams," head coach Pat McMahon said. "I really like our guys, they've worked hard. We're asking a lot of young guys to grow up and they have. We have to figure some things out on the mound a little bit better."

It was the pitching that destroyed the Gators in last weekend's series. Florida allowed 31 earned runs on 51 hits and walked seven in the three games. McMahon will utilize the same pitching rotation this weekend with freshmen Kyle Mullaney (2-1, 5.93 ERA) getting the nod on Friday. He pitched well against the Commodores, allowing three runs on seven hits in 5.1 innings of work.

Bryan Augenstein (4-5, 6.35 ERA) takes the hill on Saturday, looking to get back on track after a disappointing outing against Vandy. Augenstein leads the Gators with 71 strikeouts this season.

Freshman Billy Bullock (2-5, 5.09 ERA) will make his 13th start of the season on Saturday. The right-hander only lasted 3.2 innings last Sunday against Vanderbilt, allowing eight runs on 10 hits.

Matt LaPorta is back after missing the first two games in Nashville. In his return to the lineup on Sunday, the senior slugger belted out two more hits, including a homer, extending his hitting streak to 20 games. He leads the Gators with a .431 average, 17 home runs and 43 RBI.

Brian Leclerc is still carrying a hot bat. The senior ripped four base hits against Vanderbilt and carries a .397 batting average in SEC games, ranking him second on the team.

With both Alabama and the Gators tied in the SEC standings, this weekend's series could play a large role in the race for the SEC Tournament. Both teams hold just a half game lead over Kentucky and LSU who currently hold the eighth and ninth positions in the conference. LSU matches up against Arkansas this weekend, while Kentucky visits South Carolina.

LaPorta semifinalist for top award

Matt LaPorta was named earlier this week as one of the 50 semifinalists for the 2007 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award. The award is given to the nation's premier amateur baseball player.

The winner's name will be announced on June 29, during the 2007 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Show presented by Major League Baseball.

Parking advisory

Because of graduation, a parking shuttle will be available for all three games. Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the O'Connell Center. The lot opens up at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, but is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There will also be a shuttle that runs from the commuter lot located on Gale Lemerand Drive beginning at 5:30 p.m. The shuttle will drop patrons at Gator Corner Dining by Gate 2 of the O'Connell Center. The shuttle is free of charge,a nd will run until a half hour following the conclusion of each baseball game.

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