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Saturday March 20, 2010No. 6 Baseball Holds Off MSU, 5-4, To Clinch Series

Gainesville, Fla.

In front of a season-high crowd of 4,823 fans, No. 6 Florida (15-3/2-0 SEC) snapped a 1-1 tie with a four-run seventh inning to clinch its weekend series with a 5-4 triumph over Mississippi State (11-8/0-2 SEC) on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium. The Bulldogs plated a pair of runs in the ninth before junior Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) had senior Luke Adkins (3-for-5) pop up in foul territory with the tying run on first base to end the game.


During a wild seventh frame, senior Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) put the Gators in front with a two-out bunt single, was on the back end of a double steal in which sophomore Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (2-for-3) stole home and sophomore Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4, three RBI) capped the rally with a two-run double. Sophomore Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) (2-0) allowed one run and two hits over 1.2 innings to record the win, while Chapman battled through the ninth to secure his fourth save.


"The crowd was tremendous and it was a very well-played game,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Both freshmen starting pitchers did an outstanding job. In this league, all of the wins are important and obviously this is a big one
tonight. It was a battle through the first six innings and the defense was strong for both sides.”


“In close ballgames, it’s going to be important to drive guys in with a bunt,” den Dekker said. “When we can play small ball and get the little things done, that’s an important part of these close ballgames. Sometimes in one-run games, it’s usually going to come down to a bunt or a sacrifice so it’s an important thing.”


Mississippi State used an RBI single up the middle by senior Connor Powers (2-for-3) off freshman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) in the third to seize a 1-0 lead. Adkins had roped his second double of the game into right center and Powers delivered a base-knock for his team-leading 33rd RBI.


Florida squandered a chance in the fifth after having its first two batters reach base. Junior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) walked to start the inning and Thompson laced a single into right field before freshman Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance his teammates into scoring position. A grounder by den Dekker was fielded by Powers at first base, who threw home to get Smith for the first out and den Dekker was gunned down trying to advance to second base to complete an inning-ending double play.


Tucker evened the contest at 1-1 in the sixth with a one-out solo shot to deep left field. It marked his fourth-straight game with a homer and raised his hitting streak to seven games. Tucker has now tallied 17 RBI in his last six outings.


Freshman Kamm Washington (Boynton Beach, Fla.) made a sterling catch in foul territory to retire junior Jonathan Ogden to open the seventh and a walk to senior Russ Sneed ended the night for Johnson. Over a career-high 6.1 innings, the southpaw scattered five hits, registered four strikeouts and gave up one run. Maronde set down the Bulldogs with back-to-back punch-outs of freshman Sam Frost and junior Nick Vickerson.   


“It was really good to see Brian bounce back after last week’s start,” said O’Sullivan. “He threw a good session in the bullpen on Wednesday and looked sharp tonight. Other than in the third inning when he gave up a run, Brian was on his game and mixed up his pitches well. He was very aggressive with his breaking ball and had a lot more confidence tonight than he did last week.”


Over six full innings, Bulldog freshman hurler Chris Stratton notched seven strikeouts and permitted four hits and one run. Soon after, UF erupted for four runs on four hits in the seventh to build a 5-1 lead. Washington led off with a base-hit up the middle off freshman left-hander Chad Girodo (0-1) and went to second on a passed ball by junior catcher Cody Freeman. Smith reached on a bunt single to give the Gators runners on the corners but was then picked off by Girodo. After Thompson was hit by a pitch, Zunino laid down a sacrifice bunt to give Florida two men in scoring position. den Dekker dragged a bunt up the first-base line and beat the relay throw, allowing Washington to score the go-ahead run. Senior Greg Houston was summoned from the bullpen for Girodo (0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R) and the Gators executed a double steal that resulted in a 3-1 advantage. den Dekker took off for second and as the throw was being made by Freeman, Thompson came racing home ahead of the relay throw for a two-run lead. It was UF’s first theft of home since Adam Davis accomplished the feat against Kentucky on March 27, 2004. A wild pitch by Houston pushed den Dekker to third and a walk to junior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) prompted another change. Tucker welcomed freshman C.C. Watson with a two-run double to expand the hosts’ lead to 5-1.


Adkins began the eighth with his third double, matching a Mississippi State single-game mark, and Powers followed with a single to center field. Maronde induced a grounder from Freeman that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play, allowing Adkins to come across and cut the deficit to 5-2.     


Chapman replaced Maronde (1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 K) and yielded a leadoff double to senior Jet Butler. Ogden’s groundout moved Butler to third and a sacrifice fly by Sneed ended Chapman’s scoreless streak at 16.2 innings dating back to last season and closed the gap to 5-3. Junior pinch hitter Wes Thigpen was hit by a pitch from the lefty and stole second base before Vickerson stroked an RBI single to bring the Bulldogs within a run. Adkins popped up Chapman’s next offering and the reliever snared it in foul territory to preserve the win.


Each team recorded nine hits and neither one committed any errors. The squad will wrap up the series tomorrow at 1 p.m., live on FOX Sports Florida.


Game Notes

·          Preston Tucker’s four-consecutive games with a homer is one shy of the school record of five held by Matt LaPorta between March 24-April 1, 2007.

·          Brian Johnson’s previous high of 5.2 innings came in his collegiate debut against USF on Feb. 20.

·          Johnson’s four strikeouts were one shy of his season high of five at Miami (Fla.) on March 6.

·          Florida was flawless in the field for the fourth-game in a row and is now 10-1 when not committing an error.

·          UF improved to 11-0 when its starting pitcher works at least five innings.




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