Gators Fall in Super Regional Opener

The Golden Eagles of Southern Miss scored four runs in the sixth inning to take the lead and their bullpen made it hold up in a 9-7 win over the Florida Gators in the opening game of the Super Regional in Gainesville. The loss was the first home Super Regional loss the Gators have ever experienced and moved the team within one loss of the end of its season.

The game began under threatening skies in Gainesville as Mother Nature continued to make this the wettest late spring on record. Stephen Locke took to the mound for the Gators and after s scoreless first inning found himself down a run on a line drive homer off the bat of B.A. Vollmuth.

Southern Miss (39-24) scored again in the second on a bases loaded sacrifice fly by DH Corey Stevens that scored Taylor Walker who had singled. Just as the bottom of the third was about to get underway it began to rain heavily forcing the game to stop as the players dragged the tarp onto the field at McKethan Stadium. Before the game one of the Southern Miss officials told me they were concerned about a rain delay because their pitcher, J.R. Ballinger doesn't handle them well.

Talk about being prophetic

After a delay of 59 minutes the Gators (42-21) finally got to bat in the bottom of the third and it was well worth the wait. Daniel Pigott reached on an error by Vollmuth, Golden Eagles shortstop and Teddy Foster followed with a homer to right to tie the score at 2-2. After Mike Mooney lined out Avery Barnes singled and Jonathon Pigott doubled putting runners on second and third. Preston Tucker added to his school record (84) with an RBI groundout to give the Gators the lead, and Josh Adams added another with a double to right centerfield putting the Gators up 4-2 after three.

Next it was Locke's chance to handle the extended delay and the fifth year senior was up to the task, retiring the Golden Eagles without allowing a hit and keeping momentum in the Gator dugout.

Florida kept the pressure on in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff double by Brandon McArthur. Daniel Pigott followed with a bunt that was intended to be a sacrifice but he beat it out for a single, Foster was hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases and ended the day for Ballinger. Lefty Cody Schlagel entered the game to face Mooney with no one out and after a long at bat got Mooney looking for the first out. Avery Barnes followed with a grounder to first baseman Joey Archer who stepped on the bag and threw home to nail McArthur to end the inning. Those are the kind of missed opportunities than often come back to haunt you later.

Well, the haunting began almost immediately. Bo Davis led off the fifth with the double and James Ewing doubled him home. Kameron Brunty followed with a single, putting runners on the corners and Locke on the bench. Patrick Keating was has been outstanding out of the bullpen lately came in to face Stevens who hit what looked like a tailor made double play ball to Mooney. But the Gator shortstop couldn't handle a tough hope and was charged with an error allowing the tying run to score. A wild pitch brought home Brunty and Southern Miss was back on top 5-4.

Florida had another great opportunity in the bottom of the fifth and this time didn't waste it. Jonathan Pigott walked to get things started and singles by Tucker and Adams put a Gator on every base with none out. Greg Schlagal's last pitch of the day got Matt den Dekker to pop up and the Golden Eagles brought in Jonathan Johnston to face McArthur. His second pitch hit the Gator senior and the game was tied at 5-5. Freshman Tyler Thompson pinch hit for Daniel Pigott and hit a foul fly ball to left field and when Brunty made a sliding catch Tucker tagged and scored the go ahead run.

But on this day, leads didn't last very long. Southern Miss smacked around Keating for four runs in the sixth to grab a 9-6 lead. A single and hit batter put two runners on. Ewing singled in one run, Brunty broke the 6-6 tie with a sacrifice fly before a Stevens double and Archer single finished up the scoring. Florida went quickly in its half of the inning so Southern Miss took a 9-6 lead into the late innings.

After 15 runs in six innings the pitchers took over late in the game. Florida got solid efforts from Greg Larson, Tony Davis and Justin Poovey to keep Southern Miss from scoring again, but Florida could do nothing against Johnston who held the Gators to one hit in 3 2/3 innings.

It came down to the bottom of the ninth and the Golden Eagles turned to their closer, Collin Cargill to try and register his 12th save of the season. Barnes greeted Cargill with a single but was called out at second on a very close force play off a grounder by Jonathan Pigott. Tucker ripped a single to centerfield bringing the tying run to the plate. Adams lined to right field to get the Gators down to their final out, but den Dekker singled up the middle to keep it going and make it a 9-7 game. With the tying runs on base the potential winning run stepped to the plate in the person of Brandon McArthur. However there was to be no story book ending this time. McArthur grounded to second base and Southern Miss had the win.

The Golden Eagles were not even a bubble team until a late season surge and strong showing in the Conference-USA Tournament got them into the field of 64. Now they are one win from their first trip to the College World Series. The Gators, on the other hand are ranked No. 8 in the nation will try to stave off elimination tomorrow when the teams meet at 7:00.

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