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Friday March 16, 2007Miss. State Claims SEC Opener Over Baseball, 12-9

Gainesville, FL

Trailing 5-1, Mississippi State (11-3) exploded for nine runs on nine hits in the seventh inning on its way to a 12-9 victory over Florida (10-11) in the teams’ Southeastern Conference opener on Friday night at McKethan Stadium. The Bulldogs banged out 17 hits and notched their 12th double-digit hit total in 14 outings this season. Freshman Connor Powers was a career-best 4-for-5 and senior Brian LaNinfa was 2-for-5 with three RBI to pace MSU. Sophomore Aaron Weatherford improved to 3-0 by working 6.1 innings and junior John Lalor registered his first career save.    


The Gators jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first against Weatherford. Sophomore Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.) drew a one-out walk and senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) stroked a single into right field. A throwing error by Bulldog junior catcher Edward Easley allowed both runners to move into scoring position before the right-hander fanned freshman Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.). Senior Austin Pride’s (Longwood, Fla.) infield hit beyond third base scored Barnes and LaPorta also came across when he beat the relay throw to the plate.


LaNinfa’s two-out RBI double in the third off junior Bryan Augenstein (Sebastian, Fla.) cut UF’s lead in half. Rookie Brandon Turner led off with a base-hit up the middle and Easley walked before the Gators turned a 6-4-3 double play on a ball hit by junior Mitch Moreland. With Turner perched on third base, LaNinfa’s rocked Augenstein’s 1-2 offering into right field for his sixth two-bagger of the campaign.


The Gators answered in the bottom of the frame on sophomore Cody Neer’s (Orlando, Fla.) two-out double into right center to seize a 3-1 lead. Weatherford retired the first two batters and then plunked senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.). With Leclerc running on contact, Neer collected his 15th RBI on his sixth double.


Florida increased its lead to 5-1 in the fifth on a couple of hits, two wild pitches and a pair of walks. Townsend earned a base on balls to start things off, Barnes singled through the right side and back-to-back wild pitches enabled Townsend to score and Barnes to occupy second. As LaPorta took ball four for his team-leading 14th free pass, Barnes swiped third for his first theft of the year. Figueroa lined an RBI single into center and Weatherford rebounded by having Pride ground into a double play and striking out freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.).  


Mississippi State erupted for nine runs on nine hits and three Gator errors to take a 10-5 lead in the seventh. Powers and junior Andy Rice delivered consecutive one-out singles off Augenstein and senior Joseph McCaskill followed with a pinch-hit RBI single to close the gap to 5-2. Sophomore Mark Goforth made it four-straight hits with a base-knock to center to plate Rice and the Bulldogs wound up with runners on second and third courtesy of a fielding error by den Dekker. Senior Steven Porter (Ocoee, Fla.) replaced Augenstein (6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R) and gave up an RBI single to senior Jeffrey Rea before fanning Turner. A walk to Easley filled the sacks with two down and Moreland walked on four pitches to tie the game. LaNinfa moved the Bulldogs in front, 7-5, with a two-run flare into center to chase Porter (0.1 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 2 BB). Powers greeted junior reliever Josh Edmondson (LaGrange, Ga.) with an RBI single to score Moreland and Rice’s double brought across LaNinfa and a throwing error by Petrie allowed Powers to make the count 10-5 for MSU. Although McCaskill laced a single into right, Rice was gunned down at the plate on a relay from Leclerc to Neer.


UF countered with three runs in the home part of the stanza to reduce its deficit to 10-8. LaPorta registered his third hit with a leadoff single but was forced at second on Figueroa’s fielder’s choice. After Pride reached on an error, Figueroa took third on a wild pitch and a walk to den Dekker loaded the bases and caused a pitching change. Lalor took over for Weatherford (6.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 4 BB, 6 K) and surrendered a two-run single to Leclerc and a sacrifice fly by Neer.


State’s offense kept up its production in the eighth, tacking on two more runs for a 12-8 margin. Goforth and Rea opened with back-to-back singles off freshman Clint Franklin (Orlando, Fla.) and Turner’s sacrifice attempt was thrown away, permitting Goforth to score. Moreland later added an RBI single to put the visitors ahead by four. Townsend opened the bottom of the inning with his fourth homer into the left-field bleachers to finalize the score at 12-9.


The Bulldogs enjoyed a 17-12 advantage in hits and the teams combined for eight errors. In addition to Powers and LaNinfa, Goforth, McCaskill, Rea, Rice and Turner contributed multiple-hit efforts. LaPorta and Leclerc were each 3-for-4 for the Gators. Sophomore LHP Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) (2-2, 5.40) will pitch tomorrow’s game two of the series at 4 p.m. against MSU junior Justin Pigott (2-1, 4.03).     




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