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Sunday March 18, 2007Mississippi State Holds Off Baseball, 14-13

Gainesville, FL

In an offensive shootout that featured 34 hits and 27 runs, Mississippi State (12-4/2-1 SEC) claimed the rubber match of its weekend series with a 14-13 victory over Florida (11-12/1-2 SEC) at McKethan Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Led by senior Jeffrey Rea’s career-best 5-for-6 effort and junior Edward Easley’s 3-for-3, four-RBI performance, all nine Bulldog starters contributed to the squad’s 20-hit output. UF senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) continued his torrid hitting with a 4-for-5, three-RBI showing, was 10-for-13 (.769) in the series and drove in seven runs. 


Mississippi State shot out of the gates with four runs on three hits in the opening stanza against freshman Billy Bullock (Valrico, Fla.), highlighted by a three-run blast from junior Mitch Moreland. Rea led off the game with a triple into the gap in left center and freshman Brandon Turner was hit by a pitch. Easley stroked an RBI single up the middle and Moreland followed with his second blast of the season over the wall in right center.


The Gators came right back with five runs of their own in their first at bat with four-consecutive two-out hits. With one down, freshman Matt den Dekker (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) was hit by senior Josh Johnson and senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) earned a free pass before freshman Cole Figueroa’s (Tallahassee, Fla.) grounder advanced the runners into scoring position. Senior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) legged out an infield hit to drive in den Dekker and Leclerc roped an RBI single into right center and advanced to second on the relay throw. After sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) stroked a two-run single to clear the bases and knot the contest at 4-4, he moved to second on his second theft of the year. Freshman Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) continued the hit parade and gave UF a 5-4 lead with a flare into shallow center.


The Bulldogs used a three-run homer to straightaway center by Easley to seize a 7-5 advantage in the second. After sophomore Mark Goforth singled to short and Rea punched a single, a fly ball by Turner pushed the runners along with two out. Easley’s team-leading sixth homer, second of the series, was wind-aided and eluded den Dekker at the wall near the 400-foot mark.


Florida answered with a pair of two-out runs in the home part of the frame for a 7-7 stalemate. Johnson retired the first two batters before walking LaPorta for the second time. Figueroa lined a single off the hurler to advance his teammate and Pride collected his second RBI of the day to reduce the deficit to a run. Leclerc poked another single to bring across Figueroa with the tying run.


The runs kept flowing in the fourth, as State claimed a 10-7 edge on a two-run single by junior Andy Rice and a fielder’s choice by Rea. Sophomore Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) replaced Bullock (2.0 IP, 6 H, 7 R) and surrendered back-to-back singles by senior Brian LaNinfa and freshman Connor Powers before uncorking a wild pitch. Rice drove in his teammates with a base-hit to center and occupied second when the relay went to the plate. An infield hit by Goforth nudged Rice to third and MSU reached double-digits on Rea’s bouncer to second.      


The Gators pulled to within 10-9 in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Pride and Leclerc’s third two-out RBI single of the afternoon. Den Dekker and LaPorta started things off with consecutive singles and were sacrificed over on a bunt by Figueroa. Pride’s first sac fly of the year scored den Dekker and the sizzling Leclerc bashed his ninth hit of the weekend for his seventh RBI in three games.


The visitors tacked on two more runs in the fifth to go ahead 12-9 but left the bases full. Senior Joseph McCaskill had a one-out double and a bunt single by Goforth left the Bulldogs with runners on the corners. An RBI single through the right side by Rea scored McCaskill and prompted a pitching change, as freshman Kyle Mullaney (Jacksonville, Fla.) replaced Keating (1-1, 2.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R). Turner poked a single into shallow left for a three-run margin and Easley drew a walk to load the bases with one down. Mullaney worked out of further trouble by setting down Moreland and LaNinfa. Pride later belted a solo shot with two down in the sixth off sophomore Chad Crosswhite (2-1), who had taken over for Johnson (4.0 IP, 10 H, 9 R) prior to the fifth. It was the fifth big fly of ’07 for Pride and came moments after Figueroa had been thrown out tying to steal second.


MSU used a two-run, two-out single by LaNinfa in the seventh to build a 14-10 lead. Rea and Turner had one-out hits and Easley drew a base on balls to load the sacks with one out and end the afternoon for Mullaney (2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R). Senior David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.) caught Moreland looking on strikes and then yielded a single to right by LaNinfa that plated Rea and Turner. In the bottom of the inning, an RBI grounder by sophomore Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.) drove in Neer for a 14-11 count. Neer was aboard on second following a dropped fly ball in center.   


Helped by an error, the Gators closed the gap to 14-12 in the eighth. Senior Chris Petrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) led off with a single and LaPorta’s potential double-play grounder was mishandled, giving UF runners on the corners. A fielder’s choice by Figueroa scored Petrie and Leclerc collected his fourth hit with two down. Crosswhite induced a flyout by Neer to strand the runners and preserve the two-run lead.


Junior Bryson Barber (Pensacola, Fla.) jacked a pinch-hit homer to start the bottom of the ninth to keep Florida’s comeback hopes alive. It was Barber’s first four-bagger of the campaign and UF’s first pinch-hit HR since Feb. 12, 2006, when Greg Quatrino went deep against Cincinnati. Moreland shifted from first base to the mound for Crosswhite (4.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER) and set down the three Gators he faced for his first save.

MSU out-hit the Orange and Blue, 20-14. Pride finished 3-for-4 and tallied four RBI, while LaPorta scored three runs for the home team. The Gators will head to DeLand on Tuesday night for a 7 p.m. meeting at Stetson (17-7). The Hatters notched a 7-6 win at McKethan Stadium last March.




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