The No. 5 ranked Florida Gators scored five runs in their last two at-bats to run away with a 9-2 Southeastern Conference win over the Alabama baseball team on Saturday night from McKethan Stadium. With the loss, the Crimson Tide falls to 25-17 overall and 8-9 in SEC play, while the Gators improved to 30-10 and 13-4 in conference play.
The score of the game does not indicate how close the contest was through the first 6.5 innings of play. Alabama trailed 4-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, until a three-run home run by Mike Zunino took the wind out of the Crimson Tide sails. The home run led to a four-run seventh inning for Florida, turning a two-run game into a seven run loss for the Tide. Alabama had 10 hits, while leaving 13 runners on base, but struck out 11 times as a team.
"I thought offensively, particularly in the front part of the game, we did a nice job getting our hits and putting us in position to score runs, but we couldn't get the big hit," UA head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "In the seventh inning we hung a slider to Zunino, and that stretched the game out. At that point that was kind of the back-breaker for us."
UA starting pitcher Adam Morgan (4-4) took the tough loss, throwing 6.1 innings, allowing five runs (three earned) on six hits with five strikeouts. After giving up four runs on four hits over the first nine hitters he faced, Morgan did not allow a hit the rest of the night, and retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. Florida starter Brian Johnson was touched up by the Tide for seven hits in 5.0 innings, but only allowed two runs while striking out five. Johnson earned the win to improve to 6-1 on the season.
"I thought Morgan did a really good job tonight, and kept us within striking distance against a really good offensive team," Gaspard said. "Offensively we worked really hard to keep him out there, but we could get the big hit at the right time."
After Taylor Dugas flied out to lead off the game, Alabama used three straight singles by Brock Bennett, Jared Reaves and Austen Smith score in the first inning, taking its first lead of the series at 1-0. Smith's RBI single through the right side plated Bennett from second for his 30th run batted in of the season, tying Reaves for the team lead.
Florida answered with two runs in the bottom of the first off Morgan, scoring on an RBI single by Zunino and a sacrifice fly by Josh Adams.
With the Gators leading 2-1, UA sophomore right fielder Brandt Hendricks led off the second inning with a towering shot over the left field fence for his first career home run, tying the game at 2-2. The Tide loaded the bases following three singles, but Johnson struck out Smith swinging to end the threat.
Gaspard added, "When you're playing a team like Florida, you have to deliver the timely hits and the big hits, and you have to make pitches in those tight situations. I thought we had some critical spots where we needed a big play, both offensively and all areas, but we weren't able to make it at the right time."
Florida answered with two more runs in the second inning, the first coming on a double to left center by Tyler Thompson, followed by a sac fly by Bryson Smith, giving the Gators a 4-2 lead after two innings. After allowing the two runs in the second, Morgan settled down to retire 11 straight batters, before an error in the fifth inning. He did not allow a hit in his final five innings of work.
The Gators put the game out of reach after scoring four times in the seventh. The first three runs came on a three-run home run by Zunino on a 0-2 pitch off reliever Trey Pilkington. Before the inning ended, the lead reached 8-2 following back-to-back doubles by Preston Tucker and Adams.
The final run of the game came on a solo home run from pinch hitter Ben McMahon with one out in the ninth inning off Adam Windsor, setting the final score at 9-2.