Gators can't fight off Illini in 5-1 loss

Florida's Ryan Larson (66) is tagged out by Illinois first baseman David Kerian (12) after a high throw to first on Sunday. The Gators lost 5-1 to the Fighting Illini.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 7:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 2:22 a.m.

The Illinois baseball team is headed back to Champaign with some early season momentum.


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WHO: No. 25 Florida (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (6-6)
WHERE: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, Pensacola
WHEN: Tuesday

No. 25 Florida, meanwhile, will head to Pensacola on Tuesday for a non-conference game against Southern Mississippi looking for some answers after falling to the Illini, 5-1, Sunday before a McKethan Stadium crowd of 3,132.

The win capped off a perfect 4-0 week in Gainesville for Illinois, which came into the three-team, four-day round robin event with Florida and Florida Gulf Coast as the only team with a losing record, but by the end of it it was the only one of the three above .500.

“We're not giving ourselves a chance,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “We're just in a rut right now where we're not scoring very many runs and every pitch is so important. It's just taxing on your staff.”

The Illini (6-4) scored twice in the top of the third inning off UF freshman starter A. J. Puk (1-1), who took the loss, with the big hit a two-out, bases-loaded single by Reid Roper that plated both runs.

They added three more runs in the top of the eighth on four hits off a trio of UF relievers to go up 5-0.

That was more than enough for Illinois starter Drasen Johnson (2-0), who earned the win after scattering eight hits and allowing no runs through 6 1/3 innings before giving way to reliever Tyler Jay, who finished off the win to earn his third save of the season.

The Gators (6-6) did avoid the shutout in their final at-bat when freshman Buddy Reed drew a walk from Jay with one out, moved to third on freshman Ryan Larson's single and scored on sophomore Richie Martin's sacrifice fly.

Both teams had nine hits in the game, but the difference in runs was again evidence of Florida's lack of production with runners in scoring position. The Gators, who left eight men on base in a frustrating 2-1 loss to FGCU on Thursday, stranded 10 runners against the Illini.

“We had runners on first and third with one out and didn't execute, then had a runner on third with one out and didn't execute,” O'Sullivan said. “I mean, it's the little things. Next thing you know, you have the tying run there at the plate in the ninth, and who knows what happens?”

Freshman Pete Alonso went 3 for 4 to pace the Gators, who used seven pitchers in the loss, while Ryan Nagle was 3 for 4 to lead the Illini.

“It was difficult,” Alonso said. “We had some good competition out there, but we just need to get better. It's tough not to put that many runs on the board in one game, so we just need to do a better job offensively and get better as a team.”

The Gators, who are in the midst of hosting 12 games in a 13-game span, will return home following Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. game with Southern Miss to host eight straight contests, beginning with a three-game series against Connecticut Friday through Sunday.

“The bottom line is we've got to stay positive,” O'Sullivan said. “We've got to move this thing in the right direction, and it's our job as coaches to get it going.”

Note: Tuesday's game is at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, who are a minor league team that plays in the Southern League and are the Class Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. … The second game of this weekend's series against UConn has been moved up to 3 p.m. at McKethan Stadium. The Gators and Huskies will also play at 7 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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