Florida Complete Sweep With 10-5 Sunday Win

Peter Alonso hadn’t hit anything out of a ballpark this season. Not until something about Dudy Noble Field turned the Gator first baseman into a slugger.

Alonso enjoyed a breakout Sunday with two home runs and a RBI double to lead Florida’s 10-5 victory. The Gators (31-10, 12-6) completed a road sweep of Mississippi State, and moved into a three-way tie for third place in the SEC standings.

By contrast the Bulldogs walked off their own field, and into a very long locker room meeting, at 22-19 overall and 6-12 SEC. The loss leaves State 13th in the SEC, with four weekends left to climb at least a spot higher and not miss the conference tournament. Optimism wasn’t easy to see after suffering the first home-field SEC sweep since 2010, a stretch of 23 league weekends with at least one win.

If any further frustration were needed, Mississippi State endured a sweeping on a Super Bulldog Weekend, something once unthinkable. Coach John Cohen clearly wasn’t thinking of that fact himself. Or the program’s perilous position for the SEC Tournament, either.

“I still believe we’re not that far away. Talking to our players, I said it’s really unfortunate some things didn’t happen for us. But we still have a lot left in the season and I know everyone is going to give us everything they have.”

The Bulldogs could certainly use the example of what an unexpected source of power can provide. Alonso, not a regular in the Gator order, had 42 at-bats on his 2015 resume including a first-inning strikeout when he came to the plate in the fourth. His team had a 2-0 lead at that point after Florida stung State starter Austin Sexton for a couple of first-inning scores.

Alonso made it 3-0 as he yanked Sexton’s first pitch over leftfield, a no-doubt shot off the stick. Two innings later he was up with a 3-3 tie, largely thanks to a two-run homer by C Gavin Collins in the MSU fourth. On the third pitch, Alonso lifted one high and long enough to clear left-of-centerfield for his own two-RBI blast.

Cohen said the solo shot was on a breaking ball that didn’t. The next time Sexton aimed a fastball at the outer-half only to drift it back over mid-plate. “Those two pitches to (Alonso) really changed the nature of the ball game,” Cohen said.

They certainly changed Alonso’s statistics. He added a RBI-double in the seventh inning and singled in the ninth for a 4-of-5 day with four RBI and two runs. Florida finished with a dozen total hits, though the only other for extra bases was a ninth-inning triple from Mike Rivera that scored a pair and padded the margin.

Both longballs were off Sexton (3-4), charged with five hits and runs, a walk and hit batsman, and six strikeouts. Righthander Sexton had missed the last midweek start for weather; his return to SEC work couldn’t have begun much worse.

The first two Gators up hit his fastballs for singles, then a plunking of Harrison Bader loaded the paths. With a couple of Bulldogs running to the bullpen, Josh Tobias got around on the 1-2 pitch lining a single to rightfield for the 2-0 lead.

After a mound talk, Sexton got away from the fastball for off-speed stuff and got the next three batters swinging to strand a pair. He was able to sit nine-of-ten in a stretch, too…until the top of the fourth frame when Alonso crunched the non-breaking breaker.

By contrast Gator starter Alex Faedo’s beginning could not have gone too much better. He sat the sides in three-straight turns, coaxing a few easy flies and more ground balls. Good Gator defense robbed two chances as SS Ryan Gridley’s hot shot to third base was stopped on a dive by Tobias. Cohen later claimed the play changed the nature of the game by robbing a double.

Correct or not, next 3B Seth Heck’s sinking drive was run down in the left-center gap. So it took a one-out single by RF Jake Vickerson in the fourth to end Faedo’s streak. Then, a big pulled swing by Collins to end the shutout. The tying runner was on when 1B Wes Rea’s fly to short center got off the glove for a single. 2B John Holland spanked a grounder that the Gator first baseman was perfectly positioned for.

That just delayed a deadlock by an inning. In the MSU fifth DH Brent Rooker took the first pitch to the left side for a double, and when Gridley showed bunt the first pitch bounced wild. So Gridley’s fly ball to rightfield tied it up with Rooker making home easily.

A Heck single finished Faedo for lefty Danny Young, who only saw two batters. LF Cody Brown greeted him with a first-pitch single, and RF Jake Vickerson was plunked to load the bases with still one out. Righty Taylor Lewis was able to bounce Collins into a double-play preserving the 3-3 tie.

It lasted only until Alonso came back up. With one out and a runner on first via walking, he unloaded left-of-centerfield for the two-run blast and 5-3 lead. And, Sexton’s exit.

None of the replacements did much better though. Righthanders Logan Elliott, Levi Mintz, and Dakota Hudson, then LHP Vance Tatum combined to face nine Gators and allow three runs in the process. RHP Zac Houston ended the seventh with a double-play.

State did cut into the deficit in their eighth. With Vickerson on first via a single, CF Jacob Robson’s grounder was booted at shortstop for a pair on and extended inning. Rea went after the first pitch, doubling it to the rightfield corner for a pair of RBI. Taylor Lewis kept it there with a full-count strikeout of Holland.

State sent LHP Ross Mitchell to the mound for the top of the ninth. After two quick outs it was Alonso, of course, extending the inning with a single off Holland’s glove. Another scratch hit had two Gator on for Rivera to drive in, as his liner to center was missed by Robson for a triple.

Lewis (2-1) got the win on 4.2 innings with two runs on three hits and a strikeout. Faedo had worked the first 4.1 with three runs on five hits and two strikeouts. “He had a good fastball, a tall guy with a good downhill fastball,” Rooker said. “I think he had a couple of different breaking pitches he was throwing.”

Vickerson, Rea, and Rooker had two hits each as State tallied nine safeties. Despite the lopsided score, State’s coach still insisted he’d seen a competitive contest. “I think if you take about three pitches out of this game, we’re pretty good.”

Presumably two of those were the pitches punched by Alonso. Even without the longballs, Florida still ended up with more runs than MSU though. About all the Bulldogs could feel good about was playing three errorless SEC games.

But, all were still losses, leaving Mississippi State out of today’s Hoover picture. Even the weather went wrong for these Dogs as 6-11 Georgia evaded a sweeping by LSU thanks to a Sunday washout. And now State heads to face a hot Arkansas club that just took a series at #1-ranked Texas A&M.

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