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Wednesday May 19, 2010No. 4 Baseball Heads To No. 6 South Carolina With SEC Title on the Line

Gainesville, Fla.

Tied on top of the SEC’s overall and Eastern Division standings, No. 4 Florida (38-12/20-7 SEC) and No. 6 South Carolina (42-11/20-7 SEC) will face off for the league’s championship hardware in a three-game series at Carolina Stadium beginning on Thursday.

 

The first two games of the series will be carried live in the Gainesville area on channel 6 on the Cox Communications’ cable system. Thursday’s series opener at 7 p.m. will air live on WLUF-TV, channel 6 on Cox Cable, and then be shown on tape-delay on Sun Sports at 11:30 p.m. Friday’s action will be shown live on WLUF-TV, channel 6 on Cox Cable at 7 p.m., and air via tape delay on Sun Sports at 11 p.m. Saturday’s game will be carried live on Sun Sports at 4 p.m.    

 

Sophomore left-hander Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (8-2, 3.34) will oppose Gamecock senior righty Blake Cooper (10-0, 3.01) in the series opener. In a meeting of right-handers on Friday, UF will send freshman Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (6-3, 2.96) to the hill against junior Sam Dyson (5-4, 3.79). Freshman southpaw Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (5-2, 3.53) will start Saturday’s final game of the set versus a South Carolina pitcher to be announced.

 

The Gators have claimed an SEC-best 19 division championships and their 10 league championships are tied for third with Mississippi State behind LSU (14) and Alabama (13). UF is attempting to repeat as the East winner for the first time since taking three in a row from 1996-98. Florida’s most recent SEC crown was in 2005 and it also won titles in 1952, 1956, 1962, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1996 and 1998. South Carolina has claimed four East crowns (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003) and two SEC championships (2000, 2002).

 

Florida has claimed eight of its nine SEC series and the team’s 20-7 record in league play at this point is better than the 17-10 (2009) and 14-13 (2008) efforts 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 (2-1), Tennessee (2-1), Kentucky (2-1), No. 4 Arkansas (2-1), No. 9 LSU (3-0), Alabama (2-1) and Georgia (3-0). This stretch of seven-straight weekend triumphs in conference play is the longest for the Orange and Blue since the league went to a 30-game regular-season format starting in 1996. The most league games that the Gators have won is 21, in both 1988 (21-6) and 1998 (21-8).

 

Although the Gators swept last season’s series in Gainesville, the Gamecocks have enjoyed tremendous success against UF recently, having claimed 10 of the last 15 meetings. Two years ago, South Carolina took three of the four encounters and ousted the Gators from the 2008 SEC Tournament with an 11-3 victory. The Orange and Blue have won just two of the last 10 regular-season series (2-1 in 2005; 3-0 in 2009).

 

While Florida will be making its inaugural visit to Carolina Stadium, it hasn’t held fond memories of its previous trips to Columbia. In 10 road series versus the Gamecocks, the only time the Gators emerged victorious was a three-game sweep over May 3-5, 1996, by scores of 7-4, 12-2 and 13-6. UF has been on the short end of its last six visits to South Carolina, including 2-1 series defeats in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2008, as well as sweep in 2006.

 

Florida was an even 12-12 away from Gainesville last season and went 2-3 in SEC series, with wins over Auburn (2-1) and Georgia (3-0) and losses to Arkansas (3-0), Vanderbilt (2-1) and LSU (2-1). The Gators are 10-9 on the road this spring and are 3-1 in league series, taking down Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama by 2-1 margins and falling twice in three meetings at Ole Miss.

 

Last season between April 24-26, Florida notched its first sweep of South Carolina in 12 years. UF had not taken all three games from the Gamecocks since April 25-27, 1997, and improved its home record to 24-6 (.800) on its way to a 30-10 (.750) finish. Avery Barnes was the catalyst for the triumphs over the Gamecocks, going 8-for-13 (.615) with six runs after being moved back into the leadoff spot. He was 2-for-4 with two runs and tied the game in the fifth inning with an RBI single on Friday as Gators overcame a 2-0 deficit and posted a 9-4 triumph. Barnes led off Saturday’s game with a homer and went 3-for-4 with two runs, a sacrifice bunt and his 10th stolen base as UF clinched its first series win over USC since 2005 with an 8-3 decision. In the finale, he opened the contest with a single that jump-started a four-run first inning and went 3-for-5 with a pair of runs.

 

Billy Bullock saved the final two victories over the Gamecocks, giving him eight saves on the season. Later named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the third time, Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) hit .462 (6-for-13) against South Carolina and delivered a pair of RBI singles in the first game. On Saturday, the rookie was 3-for-5 and drove in two runs. The Gator pitching staff registered a 2.00 ERA in the series, the offense batted .364 (36-for-99) and out-scored USC by a 26-12 margin.

 

Stephen Locke captured his third-straight start with a strong effort in the opener. Over a season-high 8.1 innings, the southpaw yielded six hits and two earned runs and matched his season best of six strikeouts. Tony Davis raised his mark to 5-0 with a pair of scoreless innings on Saturday in relief of starter Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 K). Holding a 4-3 lead in the seventh, UF used a two-out, two-run double by Brandon McArthur to create breathing room. Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) (3-for-5) tallied four RBI and scored twice on Sunday and Panteliodis surrendered one earned run over 5.1 innings to earn his first SEC victory.

 

In their last visit to the Palmetto State in May 2008, the Gators captured the opener, 9-3, but then dropped the final two games of the series at Sarge Frye Field, 6-5 and 9-6. Barnes was 8-for-13 (.615) and scored five runs in Columbia. He was 3-for-3 on the basepaths and had three multiple-hit efforts. Cole Figueroa went 4-for-10 (.400) with five RBI and four runs versus the Gamecocks. Riley Cooper collected his first SEC hit with a two-run homer on Saturday and added another round-tripper on Sunday, when he was 2-for-4. He tied a school record by being hit three times in the opener and was 3-for-10 (.300) with four RBI on the weekend.

 

Bullock matched a career high with seven strikeouts over 5.1 innings in relief to propel the Gators to the victory on Friday. The righty notched his first win since March 28 of that year against LSU by limiting the Gamecocks to two runs after taking over for Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) (3.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R) and was supported by a UF offense that registered five multiple-hit outings and totaled 12 hits.

 

A bases-loaded, two-run single by South Carolina’s James Darnell in the seventh inning lifted the Garnet and Black to a 6-5 victory on Saturday. A four-run fifth inning helped USC overcome a 5-3 deficit on its way to a 9-6 triumph in Sunday’s rubber game. Bryson Barber was 2-for-4 with three RBI and a two-run homer, Barnes chipped in with three hits and Kyle Mullaney fell to 0-4 after allowing three hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning...A bright spot was the performance of RHP Clint Franklin (Orlando, Fla.), who worked 2.2 innings of scoreless and hitless relief. Patrick Keating did not receive a decision after giving up seven hits and five runs in four innings.

 

The Gators have committed an SEC-low 43 errors in 50 games and boast a .978 fielding percentage that is the best in the league. UF has played flawless defense in 25 of 50 contests and sports a 20-5 (.800) mark in those games. The Orange and Blue ranked 11th in the league with a .966 clip last season.

 

Gator Bytes

*Kevin O’Sullivan is 4-3 (.571) against South Carolina, 3-0 (1.000) in Gainesville, 1-2 (.333) in Columbia and 0-1 (.000) at the SEC Tournament.

*In a statistical oddity, the Gators have limited opponents to three runs in five-straight games, all wins.

*Senior Matt den Dekker enters the weekend on a 13-game hitting streak in which he is 26-for-55 (.473) with 15 runs, 15 RBI and eight stolen bases. He has a career-high 11 homers, four in the past six games.

*Freshman shortstop Nolan Fontana has committed one error in 218 chances and ended a 40-game homerless drought with a two-run blast in the seventh against Florida Atlantic. He leads the squad with 39 walks, 25 in league action.

*Versatile freshman Austin Maddox, who has started games at third base (20) designated hitter (17), first base (12) and catcher (one), leads the Gators in RBI (63), multiple-RBI games (18), homers (17) and doubles (15). Current sophomore Preston 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.

*Thursday night’s starter, sophomore Alex Panteliodis, is 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA in his nine league starts, with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks. The lefty is 2-1 and has a 4.72 ERA in his four SEC road starts.

*Freshman RHP Hudson Randall, who will start game two for the Gators, rates fifth in the league with a 2.96 ERA and has a 6-3 record. He has captured his last four decisions.

*Freshman lefty Brian Johnson has totaled 41 K and issued 11 walks and four of his five wins on the mound have come in league action.

*Sophomore Ben McMahan delivered UF’s first walk-off homer of the season to down Georgia on Saturday, 4-3, and is now hitting .385 (20-for-52).

*UF was 10-for-11 on the basepaths against Georgia and is now second in the SEC with 84 thefts in 109 chances. Senior Matt den Dekker is 20-for-25 to lead the team and needs three more stolen bases to match Jim Watkins (1978-79) for fifth on the school’s career list with 65 SB.

*In game two at Alabama, den Dekker became the fifth Gator to reach 200 runs scored in his career. With 208 over the past four years, he trails Mark Ellis (240), Brad Wilkerson (239), David Eckstein (222) and Mark Kiger (212) on the school’s all-time list.

*den Dekker has played in 221 games to rank seventh at Florida and will soon pass Mark Ellis (224, 1996-99) and Brian Leclerc (225, 2004-07). His 207 starts are seventh, which ties Jeff Corsaletti (207, 2002-05) for the sixth spot.

*With 247 hits, den Dekker needs three more to pass Brian Duva (249, 1992-95) for ninth and with 150 RBI, he needs three more to match Mike Stanley (1982-85) for eighth. den Dekker is also tied for sixth in career sacrifice flies (12), is fifth in strikeouts (152) and ranks eighth in at bats (794) and hit-by-pitches (24).

*Junior LHP Kevin Chapman is 3-0 with a team-low 1.26 earned average in 24 appearances covering 35.2 innings. He is tied for third in the SEC with eight saves. Over his last four outings, Chapman has tallied seven K in 4.2 innings while allowing two hits and an unearned run.

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

*Florida’s bullpen is 14-2 with 13 saves and a 4.27 ERA in 202.1 innings, its starters are 24-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 240.2 innings.

*The Orange and Blue enjoy a 356-225 scoring advantage, led by a 44-16 disparity in the fourth inning and a 50-25 cushion in the fifth frame. UF holds the advantage in each inning except the second, when foes have a 39-32 edge.

*The Gators are 28-4 (.875) scoring first and 10-8 (.556) when their opponents do. UF is 29-3 (.906) when having more hits than its foe and 7-9 (.438) when out-hit.

*UF is 3-7 (.300) when their opponent scores in the opening stanza and hold a 30-26 margin in the first inning thanks to the seven-run outburst versus USF on April 21.

 

-UF-

 

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