By MIKE McCALL
Florida catcher Buddy Munroe (pictured) didn't really mind the fact that he had a busted lower lip after the Gators' clash with rival Florida State on Tuesday night. He got it in the best possible way.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Munroe stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and 1 out. He had the chance to break a 4-4 tie and snap UF out of the funk it was trapped in after being swept by Arkansas last weekend to open Southeastern Conference play. Facing a 2-2 count, Munroe laced a deep, walk-off line drive into right-center, scoring Matt den Dekker, and he was swarmed as he jogged around the bases. Munroe was met by the rest of the team as he neared third base, and he emerged from the ensuing dogpile with a swollen lip.
"[Center fielder Avery Barnes] kind of caught me with a left cross on the way out," Munroe said. "It felt great until I got hit."
The hit gave Munroe a 3-for-5 evening with two RBIs, the first three-hit night of his career. More importantly, when the Seminoles put up runs in the 6th and 9th innings, he answered each time with an RBI in the following frame. His walk-off finally put an end to a game that spanned 3 hours and 51 minutes and saw 13 pitchers take the mound.
For most of the game, it was a pretty tame UF-FSU matchup, with the 'Noles doing everything in their power to give it away. The score was 2-2 in the seventh, but the Gators put up two runs on zero hits, benefitting from three Florida State errors.
First, a throwing error on a failed pickoff attempt moved pinch hitter Jonathan Pigott to second base (he advanced to third on a passed ball). Brandon McArthur then hit a soft grounder to first base, which FSU's Jack Posey (brother of baseball god Buster Posey) booted to score Pigott.
At this point, UF fans started chanting "Hit the hall to first base," but they changed their chant to "Hit the ball anywhere" after the next at bat. Right fielder Riley Cooper (pictured, with UF football coach and honorary first-pitch thrower Urban Meyer) was up next, and FSU shortstop Stephen Cardullo misplayed his grounder to score den Dekker and give UF a 4-2 lead.
The 'Noles outhit the Gators 15-10 but squandered several opportunites. Both teams stranded 11 runners, but FSU hit into inning-ending double plays with the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh frames. That was a big confidence boost for Florida, which made six errors Sunday at Arkansas but played clean Tuesday.
The 'Noles tied the game in the top of the ninth after two singles, a ground rule double and a sacrifice fly, but their chances of taking the lead were snuffed out when Cooper tracked down a deep line drive to end the inning. Florida answered in the bottom of the inning after a single, an perfectly played bunt by McArthur that went for a hit (he admitted after the game that he missed the signal to bunt earlier in the at-bat), intentional walk and then Munroe's hit.
The win will be big for the Gators' confidence as they move deeper into SEC play. Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he had a lengthy talk with his team before the game about putting the rest of the season behind them as starting over as if they were 0-0. Beating a ranked rival is a nice way to open your "new" season.
Quick side note, Patrick Keating, the team's ace, didn't start last weekend against the Razorbacks, and he made a relief appearance in the ninth against FSU -- surrendering two runs. O'Sullivan said after the game that he was giving Keating a break to rest his arm, and he will resume his normal role as a starter when the Gators host Tennessee this weekend.