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Tuesday March 27, 2007Baseball Holds Off Bethune-Cookman, 5-3

Gainesville, FL

Senior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) snapped a 2-2 tie in the sixth with a two-run homer to lift Florida (15-13) to a 5-3 victory over Bethune-Cookman (12-18) on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. Senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) stroked a game-tying RBI single and belted a home run for the third-straight contest as the Gators equaled a season high with their fourth win in a row.


Freshman Tony Davis (Cooper City, Fla.) threw 2.2 innings of scoreless and hitless relief to collect his first collegiate triumph and sophomore Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) nailed down the final five outs for his second save. Sophomore Hiram Burgos (1-4) worked six full innings for the Wildcats, scattering seven hits and allowing four runs, to take the loss.  


“This was a great team we played tonight,” said head coach Pat McMahon. “Bethune-Cookman was so well prepared and pitched well, too. We knew it was going to be a difficult test, and it certainly was that. We had some young guys who got experience on the mound tonight, and we made solid defensive plays. Matt (LaPorta), Brian (Leclerc) and Austin (Pride) had really quality at-bats, and taking on that role is what you have to do after the challenging SEC series and long road trip we had at Auburn. So, those guys were key out there for us tonight.”


The Gators loaded the bases with none out in the third inning but could manage just one run off Burgos. Freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) opened with his third double of the year off the wall in right field and sophomore Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.) followed with a single to left. A walk to junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.) loaded the sacks and although senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, den Dekker scored.


The visitors seized a 2-1 lead in the fourth off senior Kris Gawriluk (Deltona, Fla.) on a two-run single up the middle by sophomore Michael Range. Gawriluk had taken over for freshman Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.), who had limited Bethune-Cookman to a single over the first two innings. Senior Angel Negron reached on a throwing error and sophomore Chris Brown beat out a bunt to give the Wildcats two men on base. A passed ball on a strikeout enabled both runners to advance and Range cashed in with a base-knock to put B-CU ahead.


Florida regained the lead in the sixth on a two-run opposite field homer to right by Pride. Leclerc launched a one-out double to right for his seventh multiple-hit game in the last eight outings and advanced to third on a wild pitch. After LaPorta tied the game with a single, collecting his 22nd RBI, Burgos struck out Figueroa. With two down, Pride cranked a 3-2 pitch out of the yard for his sixth dinger of the year.


“We had been struggling in mid-week games, but I think we’ve found a groove and have some pitchers to step in and get the job done,” Pride said. “It is definitely good for us to keep the momentum going into this weekend because this series at Georgia is a big one.”


Davis worked 2.2 innings and was replaced by junior Josh Edmondson (LaGrange, Fla.) with two down and nobody aboard in the seventh. Senior Spencer Hill greeted the reliever with a pinch-hit single and sophomore Jose Ortiz-Rivera sliced a base-hit through the left side before Edmondson induced a grounder by senior Chris Henault that forced Ortiz-Rivera at second for the final out.


Bethune-Cookman narrowed the gap to 4-3 in the eighth but its bid for more was undone by a base-running mistake. Senior Angel Mercado started the frame with a single into center, prompting a pitching change. Senior Steven Porter (Ocoee, Fla.) took over for Edmondson (0.1 IP, 3 H) and yielded a base-hit to Negron and a walk to Brown to fill the sacks. After sophomore Alejandro Jimenez pulled the Wildcats within a run on a groundout, Keating came out of the pen for Porter. Freshman pinch hitter Orlando Bacon hit a chopper in front of the plate and Negron came running home and was tagged out easily by the hurler. Moments later, senior Luis Gonzalez smashed a grounder that LaPorta stabbed and dove over to the bag to preserve the tenuous lead.    


LaPorta blasted his team-leading ninth homer to straightaway center field off junior Phil Enright to begin the home part of the eighth to finalize the scoring. It was the slugger’s fourth round-tripper in the past three games.


“On the defensive play, that guy smoked the ball, so I just wanted to try to put a glove on it to save him from getting a double on us,” LaPorta said. “I am a senior and guys look up to me, so I have to find ways to get on base. I took a nice swing and the ball happened to get out.”


The Gators held a 10-8 advantage in hits, although Figueroa’s 12-game streak came to an end. Florida heads to Athens this weekend for a series against Eastern Division rival Georgia (9-14/3-3 SEC). The Bulldogs claimed all three meetings in Gainesville last April. 




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