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Saturday April 7, 2007Neer's Walk-Off Homer Lifts Baseball Over No. 4 South Carolina, 9-8

Gainesville, FL

Sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) blasted a three-run homer with two out in the ninth as No. 22 Florida (20-14/8-3 SEC) stunned No. 4 South Carolina (25-7/6-5 SEC), 9-8, on Saturday afternoon in front of 3,651 fans at McKethan Stadium. The Gators trailed 8-2 in the eighth before senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) clubbed a grand slam to pull the hosts within 8-6. 

 

“Our guys just kept pushing today,” said head coach Pat McMahon. “When you’re down, 8-2, it is not an ideal situation to be in, but we never gave up. Cody (Neer) has done such a great job of continuing to get better every day. He really worked hard at the plate there at the end, coming from behind in the count with two strikes. Brian (Leclerc) worked hard in rehab to get back. His grand slam was huge, and it was set up by our other guys being unselfish and getting on base.”

 

Junior Wynn Pelzer (1-2) set down the first two Florida hitters in the ninth before walking senior slugger Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) (2-for-3, two RBI) on four pitches. Junior Bryson Barber (Pensacola, Fla.) was hit by a pitch for a pair of runners aboard and Neer launched the right-hander’s 1-2 offering to straightaway center field. South Carolina junior center fielder Steven Reinhold appeared to make a dramatic game-ending catch at the wall but his momentum knocked the ball out of his glove, whipping the Orange and Blue fans into a frenzy. Neer’s third home run of the campaign was his first since Feb. 13 against Florida A&M.

 

“It is a great feeling to have been able to do that,” Neer said. “We were playing catch-up the whole game. I knew with two outs that our goal was to keep guys at the plate and to keep winning pitches. I just happened to get a good fastball and make a good swing. I was just going for a base hit. I never would have thought it would be a home run.”

 

Senior David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.) worked a perfect ninth for the home team to improve to 2-0 with the win. Making his first start of the year, sophomore Will Atwood scattered six hits and allowed two runs over a career-high seven innings for the Gamecocks but was not involved in the decision.

 

South Carolina used a pair of two-run homers to begin the scoring in the third against freshman Tony Davis (Cooper City, Fla.). Sophomore James Darnell drew a walk with one down and sophomore Justin Smoak extended his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games with his team-leading 10th round-tripper to left center field. After junior Phil Disher earned a free pass and advanced to second on a wild pitch, sophomore Andrew Crisp connected on his third homer of the year to give the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead and end the afternoon for Davis (2.2 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 5 BB).

 

The Gators narrowed the gap to 4-1 in the bottom of the frame on a two-out RBI single by LaPorta. Atwood set down the first two Gators before yielding a walk to junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.). Freshman Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.) lashed a base-hit into right and LaPorta raised his hitting streak to a career-high 10 games with a base-knock up the middle. Atwood struck out senior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) with runners on the corners to end the frame.   

 

Sophomore Reese Havens provided Carolina with a 6-1 advantage with his second dinger in the fourth. Junior Travis Jones poked a leadoff single off freshman Kyle Mullaney (Jacksonville, Fla.), stole second and moved to third when the relay throw went into the outfield. Havens then belted a 2-2 pitch just above the orange line beyond the left-field fence.

 

LaPorta’s first sac fly of the year pulled the Gators within 6-2 in the fifth. Freshman Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) led off with a bunt and went to third on Figueroa’s second hit of the game. LaPorta sent a drive to the warning track in right field for his 37th RBI.

 

Darnell roped a two-out RBI single in the sixth to boost South Carolina’s lead to 7-2. Mullaney had the first two hitters ground out before Havens singled through the right side of the infield. Junior Harley Lail collected the visitors’ seventh walk of the afternoon and Darnell cashed in with a hit into shallow left.

 

Jones jacked his third homer of the series and sixth of the year with one down in the eighth off freshman Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) to put the Garnet and Black up 8-2. Chapman had taken over for Mullaney (3.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R) prior to the seventh stanza.

 

Leclerc picked an opportune time for his first homer of ‘07, as he belted a grand slam off junior Curtis Johnson with none out in the home part of the inning to reduce UF’s deficit to 8-6. LaPorta started the frame with a single, junior pinch hitter Barber walked and Neer was hit by a pitch. Leclerc bashed the righty’s first pitch over the right-field fence for his second grand slam. After Johnson fanned sophomore pinch hitter Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.), Pelzer came out of the bullpen to strike out senior pinch hitter Chris Petrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) and den Dekker.

 

“This was a big confidence booster for us to be able to battle back from being down, 8-2,” LaPorta said. “We stress it a lot to be mentally tough because it is never over, like you saw, until it’s over. We got two quick outs and then Bryson (Barber) and I battled to get on base. Then, Cody came up and did his job. That was huge for us.”

 

Thanks to Neer’s game-ending homer, UF had a 9-8 edge in hits. The trio of Figueroa, LaPorta and Neer finished with two hits apiece, while Havens (2-for-4) and Jones (2-for-3) powered USC. Florida will send freshman RHP Billy Bullock (Valrico, Fla.) (2-3, 4.66) to the hill tomorrow at 1 p.m. against rookie RHP Blake Cooper (4-0, 1.40). The game will be carried live by ESPN.  

 

-UF-

 

 

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