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Wednesday April 28, 2010No. 6 Baseball Hosts Defending National Champion No. 9 LSU

Gainesville, Fla.

Fresh off a thrilling series victory over then-No. 4 Arkansas, No. 6 Florida (28-11/12-6 SEC) welcomes No. 9 LSU (32-10/11-7 SEC) to McKethan Stadium for a pivotal weekend series. Friday’s opener at 8 p.m. will be carried live on CSS and be shown locally on Cox Cable Channel 21. Game two will be at 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU, while Sunday’s finale will be at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

 

The Gators are currently two games behind No. 3 South Carolina (32-8/14-4 SEC) in both the overall and Eastern Division standings, while the Tigers are tied for second in the West with No. 14 Ole Miss (29-13/11-7 SEC) behind the seventh-ranked Hogs (33-8/13-5 SEC).

 

Sophomore left-hander Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (6-2, 3.18) will oppose Tiger junior right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (2-1, 6.35) to begin the series. Panteliodis is tied for second in the SEC in wins (six), ranks seventh in opposing batting average (.227) and is ninth in ERA (3.18). The left-hander has worked at least 5.1 innings in all eight of his starts and boasts a 45:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

 

Freshman righty Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (4-3, 3.65) will start game two on Saturday against an LSU pitcher to be announced. In his last start, Randall scattered six hits over 5.2 innings without allowing any earned runs to Arkansas during UF’s 8-2 win. Twice named as the SEC Freshman of the Week, the righty will be making his team-leading 10th start. In five starts at home, Randall is 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA, with 22 strikeouts and six walks in 30.2 innings.

 

Freshman left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (3-2, 2.91) will be on the hill for the Gators in the finale against a Tiger pitcher to be determined. He threw seven shutout innings versus Arkansas last Sunday but was not involved in the decision. Johnson has the lowest earned run average of any Gator starting pitcher in overall games and his 1.57 ERA in SEC games leads the conference. Over five league starts, the souhtpaw is 2-1 with 19 K in 28.2 innings.

 

Florida has claimed five of its six SEC series and the team’s 12-6 start to league play is two games better than the 10-8 effort during Kevin O’Sullivan’s first two seasons at the helm. UF finished 17-13 and was the runner-up in the East in 2008 and claimed the division title last year with a 19-11 mark that was one game back of league co-champions LSU and Ole Miss.

 

Since dropping two of three games at No. 17 Ole Miss, the Gators have taken league series from No. 17 Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky and No. 4 Arkansas by identical 2-1 margins. This stretch of four-straight weekend triumphs in conference play is the longest since the 2005 Gator squad claimed five in a row on its way to a 20-10 performance and the program’s most recent SEC crown.

 

The Gator baseball team will become the seventh different Florida athletics program that has faced the defending national champion during the 2009-10 school year:

Sport

Defending Champ

Date

Outcome (Score)

Difference

Volleyball

Penn State (H/NCAA)

12/11/09

L, 0-3

 

Gymnastics

Georgia (H)

2/19/10

W, 197.15-197.25

0.100

Women’s Tennis

Duke (H)

2/28/10

W, 7-0

 

Gymnastics

Georgia (N)

3/27/10

W, 197.05-196.825

0.225

Men’s Swimming

Auburn (H)

1/22/10

W, 162-138

 

W. Cross Country

Washington (N)

10/2/09

3rd/22 (Wash./1st)

71 pts.

W. Cross Country

Washington (N)

10/17/09

2nd/37 (Wash./1st)

30 pts.

W. Cross Country

Washington (N/NCAA)

11/23/09

7th/31 (Wash./3rd)

72 pts.

M. Cross Country

Oregon (N)

10/17/09

15th/34 (Ore./1st)

323 pts.

 

Last season, Florida salvaged the finale at No. 3 LSU with a 9-3 triumph on Mother’s Day to end a three-game losing streak. After falling to the Tigers at Alex Box Stadium by scores of 10-1 and 4-0, the Gators rebounded on Sunday, May 10, behind five strong innings from Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.). The left-hander totaled a career-high eight strikeouts and limited the Bayou Bengals to three hits and a pair of walks. Maronde was supported by a Florida offense that banged out 15 hits and had a pair of three-run innings. After being held hitless during the first two games, Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (4-for-5, three runs) and Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) (3-for-3, three runs, three RBI) played key roles in the win for the Orange and Blue. Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) also went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs.

 

The Gators hit just .245 (25-for-102) at LSU, as den Dekker, Brandon McArthur, Pigott and Tucker each batted .333. Florida’s pitching staff registered an earned run average of 5.76 over the three games, although Tony Davis threw 3.1 scoreless innings in two appearances. Billy Bullock hurled a scoreless ninth in the finale and UF did not commit any errors.

 

In the Tigers’ most recent trip to McKethan Stadium, the Gators took two of three games from LSU over March 28-30, 2008. The triumph marked the first time in school history that Florida had defeated the Tigers three series in a row. Cole Figueroa (6-for-12, four runs, three homers, three stolen bases) and den Dekker (5-for-10, three runs, two homers) each batted .500 on the weekend.

 

UF overcame a 4-2 deficit with a six-run seventh inning to take an 8-5 win in the opener. After the Gators had tied the game with four-straight hits off Jared Bradford, Buddy Munroe launched a three-run homer to left field to put the hosts on top. UF matched a season high by sending 11 batters to the plate in the seventh and totaled seven hits. Bullock allowed 10 hits and four runs (two earned) over seven innings to collect the win, while Josh Edmondson notched his first save by striking out Leon Landry with a pair of Tigers aboard to end the game. den Dekker was 3-for-4 in the initial meeting with the Tigers.

 

Right-hander Patrick Keating registered a complete game and all nine starters had at least one hit as Florida posted a 7-1 win on Saturday. Jon Townsend and McArthur were each 3-for-4 as part of a 14-hit output for the Orange and Blue.

 

LSU prevented the series sweep with a 6-3 victory on Sunday behind a complete game from Bradford as the squads combined for seven homers. Although Figueroa (3-for-4) had a couple of solo shots for the Gators, righty Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) suffered his first loss by yielding five hits (three homers) over 5.1 innings.

 

Florida took two of three games from No. 4 Arkansas last weekend in Gainesville. The Hogs had entered the weekend on top of the league standings. Freshman Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (.280, 14 RBI) was a team-best 4-for-11 (.364) in the series, while freshman Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) went 4-for-12 (.333) and drove in three runs and den Dekker (.333, 25 RBI, 13-17 SB) hit .333 (4-for-12).

 

Zunino (.243, 25 RBI) delivered a one-out single into right field to score freshman pinch runner Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) from second base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, as the Gators nipped UA, 2-1, in the rubber match of the series. Johnson pitched brilliantly, holding one of the league’s most potent offenses scoreless over a career-high seven innings in which he gave up three hits. The southpaw registered a career-high nine strikeouts, the most by a Florida pitcher since Jeff Barfield (Perry, Ga.) had nine against Tennessee on March 20, 2009. Junior Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) (2-0, 1.59) worked two innings and picked up the win after yielding a game-tying homer in the eighth. Tucker (.342, 32 RBI) belted his eighth homer to open the scoring in the fourth.

 

A six-run fourth inning helped the Gators even the series on Saturday, 8-2. The victory snapped the Hogs’ 13-game winning streak and ended a seven-game slide for the Gators against UA dating back to a 6-1 win on April 12, 2008. Randall gave up six hits over 5.2 innings without allowing any earned runs to notch the decision, while sophomore reliever Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (2-1, 6.65) collected his second save by tossing 3.1 scoreless innings. Zunino (1-for-4) came through with a two-run double and junior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (2-for-5) belted a three-run homer during a fourth inning in which the hosts sent 10 batters to the plate. Junior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) (.224, 26 RBI) went 2-for-4 and scored twice and Fontana (2-for-4) had his second-straight multiple-hit game of the series.

 

Behind the pitching of Drew Smyly (6-0) and an offense that belted three home runs, Arkansas collected an 8-3 victory in the series opener. Fontana, Smith and Zunino each chipped in with two hits for Florida, but Tucker’s career-high 11-game hitting streak ended with a 0-for-4 performance. Panteliodis was on the hook for the loss after allowing five hits and five homers over 6.0 innings.

 

The Gators were rated No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index which game out Wednesday morning, followed by Virginia (35-9), Arizona State (34-5), Louisville (32-7) and Coastal Carolina (36-6). LSU (32-10) is 14th, while other UF opponents ranked highly include No. 7 Arkansas (33-8), No. 9 Miami (Fla.) (30-11), No. 11 Florida State (31-10), No. 17 South Carolina (32-8), No. 19 Alabama (26-15) and No. 20 Vanderbilt (32-12).

 

According to statistics’ guru Warren Nolan, Florida’s strength of schedule is the toughest in Division I, ahead of Georgia, Clemson, Miami (Fla.) and Kentucky. The Gators’ opponents have a combined record of 929-546 (.630).

 

The Gators have committed an SEC-low 31 errors in 39 games and boast a .979 fielding percentage that is the best in the league. UF has played flawless defense in 21 of 39 contests and sports an 16-5 (.762) mark in those games. The Orange and Blue was 11th in the league with a .966 clip last season.

 

Gator Bytes

*Kevin O’Sullivan is 3-3 (.500) against LSU, 2-1 (.667) in Gainesville and 1-2 (.333) in Baton Rouge.

*Florida is seeking its third-straight series win over the Tigers at McKethan Stadium after notching 2-1 wins in 2008 (W, W, L) and 2006 (L, W, W). LSU captured two of the three meetings from May 10-12, 2002.

*There has not been a sweep in the series since 2003, when LSU collected victories by scores of 9-0 and 3-2 in Baton Rouge and the series finale was an 8-8 stalemate because of the SEC’s travel curfew.

*This is the first time that the defending national champion has visited McKethan Stadium since the 2002 NCAA Gainesville Regional, when Miami (FL) advanced with a 8-7 victory over the Gators in the final. 

*Sophomore Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (.310) enters the weekend on a career-high nine-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .419 (13-for-31), with five RBI, five runs, three doubles and two triples.

*Versatile freshman Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.), who has started games at designated hitter (17), third base (11), first base (10) and catcher (one), leads the Gators in batting average (.349), RBI (45), doubles (13), multiple-RBI games (13) and homers (12).

*Maddox needs five more dingers to eclipse Jason Dill’s freshman record of 16 homers that was set in 1998. Tucker set the single-season school record of 85 RBI last year, when he claimed the team’s Triple Crown with a .364 batting average, 85 RBI and 15 home runs.

*After missing 14 games in a row with an injured finger, Smith is 6-for-20 (.300) with six RBI over his last six contests.

*The quartet of Maddox (six), Tucker (five), Adams (four), den Dekker (four) and Tucker (four) has combined for 19 of Florida’s 27 homers at McKethan Stadium this season.

*Fontana (.280) has committed one error in 173 chances, leads UF with 31 walks and is second on the club in both on-base percentage (.431) and runs (32).

*Opponents are 21-for-33 on stolen-base opportunities against the Gators, while Zunino has thrown out nine of 27 runners.

*Zunino batted a team-leading .400 (6-for-15) with six RBI and three homers as the Gators claimed three of four games last week. He went 4-for-12 (.333) and had a team-high four RBI in the series triumph over No. 4 Arkansas, highlighted by the walk-off single in game three. Five of his six homers this season have been solo shots.

*A two-time first-team All-SEC pick, Adams is batting .224 overall and .143 in SEC action. He sports a .309 career average with 129 RBI and 22 HR.

*UF is 56-of-78 on the basepaths and is fifth in the SEC in thefts. den Dekker is 13-for-17 to lead the team and needs one more stolen base to pass Adam Davis (2004-06) and Roger Holt (1975-77) for eighth on the school’s career list with 55 SB.

*Chapman, who made 11 appearances last year and 30 total in his career entering this season, is 2-0 with a team-low 1.59 earned average in 19 appearances covering 28.1 innings. He is tied for second in the SEC with seven saves. Although Chapman was charged with his first blown save last Sunday against Arkansas when he allowed a game-tying homer in the eighth, the lefty picked up the win after working two innings.

*Led by 11 from Bullock, Florida totaled 13 saves in its 42 victories in 2009. UF has 12 saves already this year from four players: Chapman (seven), Barfield (two), as well as Larson (two) and Maronde (one).

*Florida’s bullpen is 11-1 with 12 saves and a 4.32 ERA in 160.1 innings, its starters are 17-10 with a 3.85 ERA in 184.2 innings.

*Left-handed batters are 3-for-18 (.167) against Barfield, who has collected both of his wins in league action (Vanderbilt, April 2; Kentucky, April 16).

*Tucker is batting .345 (29-for-84) and Maddox is hitting .333 (30-for-90) with runners on base, with Tucker at .349 (15-for-43) and Maddox at .316 (18-for-57) with RISP.

*den Dekker (.361) and sophomore Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (.353) and are the most effective starters with two outs, while sophomore Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) is 6-for-11 (.545) with two down in an

inning. Maddox leads the Gators with 20 two-out RBI and sophomore Jerico Weitzel (Ridgway, Pa.) is 3-for-4 (.750) as a pinch-hitter. Weitzel has seven hits in his last 15 at bats (.467).

*Leadoff batters are 0-for-14 against freshman lefty Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.), who boasts an 0.59 ERA in nine appearances over 15.1 innings.

*Florida has clubbed at least one homer in a season-high seven-consecutive games, a total of 16 bombs.

*The Orange and Blue enjoy a 264-175 scoring advantage, led by a 50-23 disparity in the sixth inning and a 36-9 cushion in the fourth frame.

*Scoring first, the Gators are 20-3 (.870) and their opponents are 8-8 (.500).

*UF is 21-2 (.913) when having more hits than its foe and 6-9 (.400) when out-hit.

*The Gators are 1-7 (.125) when their opponent scores in the opening stanza and hold a slim 24-22 margin in the first inning thanks to the seven-run outburst versus USF on April 21.

 

-UF-

 

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