Augenstein, Gators Shut Down Aggies, 4-1

Nasty. That's what you can call Bryan Augenstein and the way he's pitching these days. His fast ball is moving all over the place and his curve ball is snapping downward. Throw in a changeup that's becoming an effective third pitch and you've got a real ace in the making. Texas A&M became Augenstein's latest victim Saturday afternoon as the Florida righthander mowed the Aggies down on three hits to lead the Gators to a 4-1 win before 3,781 at McKethan Stadium.

Augenstein was untouchable through the first five innings. He had a perfect game going one out into the sixth when he gave up his first hit, a home run to Josh Stinson over the wall in right field. He gave up a double to Stinson in the eighth and a single to Blake Stouffer in the ninth. The only other base runner for the Aggies reached on an error in the seventh. Augenstein threw 104 pitches (75 for strikes) and struck out eight batters as he raised his record to 4-0 and the Gators improved to 9-5.

The Saturday win evened the series with Texas A&M at 1-1 and broke a three-game losing streak for the Gators. Florida will finish up the series with the Aggies Sunday at 1 p.m. at McKethan Stadium.

Florida managed only four hits off four Texas A&M pitchers just one night removed from being shut out by the Aggies on a five-hitter. Unlike Friday night when the Gators couldn't manufacture a run, the Gators made the most of their opportunities Saturday. A home run from Brian Leclerc in the second inning and a second run courtesy of an infield hit and three Aggie errors in the fifth gave Augenstein all the run support he would require.

"I understand that people are getting down at the plate and not hitting very well but we've got to pull each other through," said Augenstein, who came through with a Saturday win last week the day after the Gators had lost a game when the bats just didn't' work. "Pitching, hitting … we're all a team and we've just got to pull everybody through."

While the Gators are waiting for the bats to finally warm to the task, Augenstein has asserted himself as the dominant pitcher on the Florida staff. This was his first complete game but it marked the fourth time in four starts that he's gone at least seven innings.

Augenstein threw only 16 innings last year as a true freshman. He admits there has been a major shift in his pitching philosophy and that has been the secret of his success. As a high school pitcher, he simply tried to muscle the ball past every hitter. He threw mostly four-seam fast balls in those days. The four-seamer is good for more velocity but the ball doesn't move as much. He's throwing two-seamers now, letting up on the velocity and letting the ball move more.

"I finally learned the movement on my fast ball was going to make me successful other than trying to blow it by everybody like I did last year," he said. "It's part of maturing as a pitcher. The success is all I want. It's not about blowing it by everybody or it's not about throwing as hard as I can. Every time out there I look forward to putting my team into a position to win."

Florida Coach Pat McMahon credited Augenstein with maturing to the point that he understands that a ground out works just as well as a strikeout.

"He's not afraid to back off his fast ball and let hitters hit ground balls," said McMahon. "One of the hardest things for a pitcher coming from high school to this level is to back off their velocity."

Augenstein had more movement on his fast ball last weekend against Ohio State but he didn't have as much control as he did Saturday against the Aggies. He had a couple of fast balls get away from him in the first inning but once he figured out where the ball was going to go, he settled down.

"It was hard to control at first because it kept going right into the ground, straight down into the ground and dropping," said the sophomore right-hander. "I had to learn how to read the run once I got out there."

He mixed in a hard breaking curve ball to go with a change-up that's improving each outing to keep the Aggies completely off balance. Last year he threw the curve ball at a lower speed and it was what he called "easy for a hitter to read." By throwing the curve with the same motion as the fast ball and increasing the speed, he's developed a second out-pitch.

"My curve ball wasn't very good last year at all so I worked on that a lot," he said. Last year the curve ball didn't have the downward snap that he's got this year and he couldn't throw it in the strike zone nearly as well.

He had such command of the strike zone Saturday that he went to a three-ball count only once in the game and that was in the ninth when Stouffer worked a full count before singling up the middle. Any chance of a last inning rally was snuffed out when Augenstein got Jose Salazar to hit into a game-ending double play.

Stinson worked him for a 2-2 count in the sixth before he launched his home run to left center field and the Aggie catcher worked the count to 2-2 in the eighth before he doubled. Augenstein allowed a two-ball count to only five other batters in the entire game. Getting ahead and staying ahead in the count is the secret behind Augenstein's early-season success.

"Coach always preaches to us, get ahead, get ahead, make something happen," said Augenstein, who completed the game in less than two hours (1:59).

Leclerc lined his first homer of the season over the left field wall on Kyle Thebeau's first pitch of the second inning. The Gators didn't get another hit until the fifth when they manufactured a run without hitting the ball out of the infield.

Chris Woods led off the inning and he was given new life when home plate umpire Eric Himmanen ruled that his two-strike foul tip hit the dirt before bouncing into Stinson's mitt. That brought Aggie Coach John Childers out of the dugout to argue the call. Himmanen asked for help from first base umpire Mike Trotter who agreed with the original call. Given a second chance, Woods beat out a tapper to third base, advanced to second when Austin Boggs' throw sailed into foul territory and to third when second baseman Jose Salazar bobbled the carom off the wall. One out later, Woods came home when Austin Barnes' grounder to short was booted by Parker Dalton.

The Gators didn't get another hit until the ninth when Barnes singled off Boggs' shoulder at third. He was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gavin Dickey. Adam Davis was intentionally walked and Leclerc was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Austin Pride who delivered a two-run single to left that barely eluded Boggs at third.

"I think it was a huge win for our ball club based on all the factors in the stretch we've been in," said McMahon, who still doesn't know when All-American first baseman Matt LaPorta will return to the lineup. Without the NCAA's defending home run king, the Gators are a team without a lot of punch offensively. McMahon ruled out LaPorta for Sunday's series finale against Texas A&M.

"It's still day to day with him," said McMahon.

LaPorta has a strained oblique muscle that has kept him out of the last six games. He just started swinging the bat again Saturday morning but McMahon said that it's much too early to rush him back into the lineup.

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