BATON ROUGE - Top-ranked Florida used a three-run ninth-inning to edge fifth-ranked LSU, 5-4, to open Southeastern Conference play in front of a record crowd of 10,220 fans on Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
After LSU took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, LSU closer Matty Ott entered the game to try and seal the win. After retiring the first batter her faced, Gator catcher Mike Zunino connected for a solo home run into the left field bleachers to tie the game 3-3.
The Gators then loaded the bases with a pair of singles and an LSU error, and Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana bounced a ball over LSU first baseman Mike Lowery's head to plate two more runs and give the Gators a 5-3 advantage.
But the Tigers wouldn't give up without a fight as Lowery promptly reached second base on a throwing error by Fontana to lead off the home half of the ninth inning. Freshman catcher Ty Ross then belted an RBI double off the left field wall to cut the lead to 5-4, but Florida closer Anthony DeSclafani retired the next three batters to earn the save and seal the win for the Gators.
"This is certainly a tough loss, but it's only the first of 30 SEC games," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "I thought our players gave everything they had, but we fell a little short tonight. Florida has a great ball club with some tremendous arms and they showed why they're the No. 1 team in the country right now. We just have to turn the page and look forward to another great effort tomorrow."
Game 2 of the three-game series will take place Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CDT in Alex Box Stadium. Live video, audio and stats of the contest may be accessed in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/HDbaseball, and it can also be heard on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network. In addition, the game will televised by Fox Sports Houston and Fox Sports Florida.
With the loss, LSU drops to 16-2 overall this season and 0-1 in SEC play, and Florida improves to 16-2 and 1-0 in league competition with the victory.
Florida reliever Tommy Toledo (2-1) earned the win, allowing just three hits and one earned run in 2.2 innings of work, while Ott (0-1) was charged with his first loss of the season in nine appearances.
After giving up three hits and two runs in the bottom of the first inning, Florida starting pitcher Brian Johnson settled in as he retired 16 out of the next 18 Tiger batters over the next five innings before being replaced by Toledo in the bottom of the sixth inning.
LSU starter Kurt McCune also had a solid outing, allowing just one earned run on seven hits in seven innings of work.
LSU jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Junior Trey Watkins led off the frame with an infield single, and the speedy left-fielder advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Raph Rhymes before stealing third a few pitches later.
Following a Tyler Hanover walk, Mahtook delivered an RBI single into shallow left to score Watkins to give the Tigers the 1-0 lead. Nola then followed with a single of his own to load the bases, and sophomore right fielder Mason Katz lifted a sacrifice fly into left to plate Hanover and give the Tigers a 2-0 advantage through one inning of play.
Florida cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth inning, as the Gators used three-straight one-out singles, capped by an RBI single to right from Zumino, to make the score 2-1
Johnson then helped himself at the plate in the top of the sixth inning with an RBI single to right, scoring Preston Tucker who reached second on an error earlier in the inning and tying the score at 2-2.
In the bottom of the eighth, the LSU offense came back to life as the Tigers used a two-out rally to take the lead. Following a single by Mahtook, Nola ripped an RBI double down the left-field line, scoring Mahtook to give LSU the 3-2 lead.
Florida 5, LSU 4 (Mar 18, 2011 at Baton Rouge, La.)
Florida............. 000 101 003 - 5 12 2 (16-2, 1-0 SEC)
LSU................. 200 000 011 - 4 10 2 (16-2, 0-1 SEC)
Pitchers: Florida - Brian Johnson; Tommy Toledo(6); Anthony DeSclafani(9) and Mike Zunino.
LSU - Kurt McCune; Ryan Eades(8); Matty Ott(9); Samuel Peterson(9) and Ty Ross.
Win-Tommy Toledo(2-1) Save-Anthony DeSclafani(3) Loss-Matty Ott(0-1) T-2:50 A-12076
HR UF - Mike Zunino (4).
Actual Attendance: 10,220
Actual attendance is an Alex Box Stadium record.