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Thursday, October 06, 2022

Anything Eastern Michigan can do, UF can do better.

After the Eagles launched a two-out grand slam off Gators starter Anthony DeSclafani in the third inning, UF right fielder Riley Cooper blasted one of his own to the parking lot behind left field on the first pitch from reliever Corey Chaffins.

Cooper crushed the ball, and it didn't take long for him to realize it was a home run.

"(I knew) as soon as I hit it," Cooper said.

The grand slam from Cooper - UF's first since Cole Figureoa hit one in Miami on March 2 last season - put the Gators up 8-4 and carried them all the way to their 17-6 victory Wednesday night at McKethan Stadium.

Things looked bleak for the No. 24 Gators (5-0) after the Eagles' grand slam. After scoring 4 runs in the first inning and having its first five batters get hits, UF's bats went cold. They didn't tally a hit in the second, third or fourth inning.

But on a chilly night at McKethan Stadium, Cooper's shot heated the whole team up - UF scored 7 more runs in the sixth inning, and catcher Buddy Munroe had a 3-run homer of his own. What looked like it could be a close game became a blowout very quickly.

Compared to last season, when Cooper hit just .207 and had 25 of his 58 at-bats end in strikeouts, he's performing much better for the team.

"He's in the flow of the team a lot better," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "This year, he's kind of had a fresh start from the beginning, and he's earned his way into the lineup earlier."

The team had a season-high 18 hits by the time the last out was made. The Gators are averaging 9.4 runs and 11.8 hits per game after their first week of the year.

After having no home runs coming into the night, UF ended the evening with three to its name.

Senior left fielder Avery Barnes took one out of the park in the first at-bat of the game. It was the Gators' first leadoff homer since Gavin Dickey hit one against South Carolina on March 25, 2006.

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O'Sullivan emptied the bench by the end of the night: Fifteen Gators had a chance at the plate.

The UF pitching staff also had six pitchers get some experience Wednesday night.

"We got a lot of guys on the mound. We got a lot of guys to get some at-bats," O'Sullivan said. "A lot of the youngsters got their feet wet."

The most important experience might have gone to DeSclafani.

It took three pitches for him to register his first career strikeout, but the rest of the freshman's night wasn't nearly as easy.

DeSclafani came out after the third inning having allowed 5 earned runs. He struck out four and walked one in his college debut.

Reliever Kevin Chapman (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who pitched the fourth and fifth innings, earned the victory for the Gators and got the game ball.

"He did a really, really nice job for us, settled things down in the middle innings," O'Sullivan said. "That's what you need in games like this."

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