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Saturday February 10, 2007VMI Downs Baseball, 7-4, To Clinch Series

Gainesville, FL

VMI’s bullpen held Florida scoreless over the final four innings and the Keydets used a 10-hit attack to hand the Gators a 7-4 loss before a crowd of 3,225 fans at McKethan Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Sophomore Michael Roberts (2-for-5, two runs) and freshman Ryan Litz (2-for-4) each drove in two runs, while senior Chad Rice was 2-for-5 out of the leadoff spot and scored twice for the visitors. Gator senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) matched Brad Wilkerson’s career home run record of 55 with a fourth-inning solo shot. Looking for the sweep, VMI will send sophomore left-hander Travis Smink to the mound in tomorrow’s series finale at 1 p.m. against UF freshman RHP Billy Bullock (Valrico, Fla.). 

 

“The game played out a lot like yesterday,” head coach Pat McMahon said. “We are playing catch-up. VMI is a very opportunistic team and made some really quality plays. We had chances offensively that we did not take advantage of, and defensively, there were miscues that opened doors for VMI. I am a believer that you make your own breaks. Our effort, hard work and the want-factor are there, so we just have to work to improve upon those missed opportunities.”

 

Making his first appearance since the opener of the championship round of the 2005 College World Series versus Texas, Florida sophomore Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) retired the side on 11 pitches in the first inning. The Keydets responded the next frame with two runs on three hits to grab a 2-0 lead. Roberts led off with a single through the left side and classmate Eddie Van Es beat out a bunt for two runners aboard. A sacrifice bunt by freshman Justin Hess advanced both runners into scoring position and Litz opened the scoring for the second-straight day with an RBI single into right center. Although Locke fanned freshman David Lottman, a passed ball enabled Van Es to come across with an unearned run.

 

“I probably need a few more starts to get back into it,” Locke said. “Even though I gave up a couple of runs before the third inning, I felt like I clicked in and got some command. My fastballs started moving. I am just going to try to build on that from here. It has been a year and a half since I pitched out in Omaha. I was anxious to get out there today and get that Orange and Blue back on again.”

 

The Gators cut the deficit in half in the home part of the second on an RBI fielder’s choice by freshman Clayton Pisani (Naples, Fla.). Junior Bryson Barber (Pensacola, Fla.) started things off with a base-hit into left center and moved to second on a wild pitch by VMI sophomore Michael Bowman. Rookie Matt den Dekker (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) collected his first career hit with a single to center to give UF runners on the corners and Pisani’s grounder forced den Dekker out at second but allowed Barber to score.

 

VMI tacked on two more runs in the third to build a 4-1 advantage. Rice and sophomore A.J. Yoder opened the stanza with back-to-back hits and senior Robert Crumpler executed a sac bunt to push his teammates over. After a grounder by Roberts drove in Rice and left Yoder on third, UF’s second passed ball of the afternoon resulted in another run for the Keydets. Van Es walked on four pitches and Hess stroked a two-out single before Locke struck out Litz to prevent further damage. LaPorta led off the bottom of the fourth by cranking Bowman’s 0-1 offering over the wall in center field to bring Florida within 4-2.

 

“We just didn’t do the little things right today, but I am pleased with the way the team is coming together,” LaPorta said. “At one point, there were only two starters from last year on the field. A lot of young guys are seeing time now and getting their feet wet, so a lot of things need to come together now.”

 

Crumpler and Roberts had consecutive singles to start the Keydets’ fifth turn at the plate and were sacrificed into scoring position by Van Es, prompting a Gator pitching change. Locke worked 4.1 innings and gave up nine hits and six runs (five earned), with two strikeouts and one walk. Hess greeted sophomore Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) with a ground ball that scored Crumpler and Litz notched his second RBI of the day by punching a two-out single into shallow left field for a 6-2 VMI lead.

 

Florida answered with two runs of its own in the home part of the inning to trim the margin to 6-4. Sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) opened with a pinch-hit double off sophomore reliever Chris Henderson, who had taken over for Bowman (4.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 K, 1 BB). With one down, junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.) smacked a run-scoring single into left field and stole second base before LaPorta collected his second RBI with a line drive base-knock into left.

 

The Gators loaded the bases in the seventh with one down but came away empty-handed. Freshman Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.) drew a one-out walk from senior Corey Bachman (1.1 IP, 1 H) and Townsend followed with a flare into left to prompt a pitching change. Senior Ian Casher committed a balk to advance Figueroa and Townsend and the Keydets decided to walk LaPorta intentionally. The move paid off when Barber grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

 

Keating threw a career-high three innings, limiting VMI to just a fifth-inning single. As a rookie, the right-hander totaled 2.2 innings of action in three appearances. Senior Steven Porter (Ocoee, Fla.) took over on the hill and retired the first two hitters he faced before running into some trouble in the ninth, when VMI added an insurance run. Rice reached on a leadoff error, occupied second on a balk and raced over to third on the same play courtesy of a throwing error. After Crumpler’s one-out grounder was misplayed, leaving the Keydets with runners on the corners, Roberts’ squeeze bunt brought across Rice to finalize the 7-4 margin. 

 

VMI held a 10-9 edge in hits, as the top seven batters in their lineup chipped in with at least one. For UF, LaPorta (2-for-3, 2 RBI) and Townsend (2-for-4) turned in multiple-hit efforts. Henderson picked up the victory in relief of Bowman, with Crum notching his second save with a perfect ninth inning.

 

Game Notes

  • The last time the Gators opened a season 0-2 was in 1982, when the squad finished 34-24-1 overall and captured the SEC’s Eastern Division, regular-season and tournament titles on its way to an appearance at the NCAA Atlantic Regional.
  • Matt LaPorta has two hits in each of the games this weekend.
  • Matt den Dekker made his first career start in center field and went 1-for-3.
  • The Gators stranded six runners and committed three errors.
  • Cody Neer poked his second double in as many games.

 

-UF-

 

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