by Matthew Lange | Special to MCLA.us
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Coming off an 0-2 road trip against Georgia and No. 1 South Carolina, the Florida Gators were able to bounce back this past weekend at home against LSU and East Carolina.
The defending Lone Star Alliance D-I champion, LSU came into the game ranked No. 25 in the nation and fresh off a hard-fought game against eighth-ranked Florida State the night before.
LSU struck first to take a 1-0 lead, but after a first-quarter hat trick from Florida freshman Michael Fox, the Gators would go up 3-1 and never look back.
Being back in the Sunshine State seemed to warm up the Gator offense, and senior attackman Kerry Thomas led the way, adding two goals and two assists to his point total. As the third quarter rolled into the fourth, the Tigers showed they would not go quietly into the Gainesville night.
A four-goal LSU run turned a comfortable, 9-3 Gator lead into a 9-7 nail-biter for the home crowd. LSU seemed to have all the momentum, but as they would all weekend, the Gators weathered the storm and found a way to put the ball in the back of the net when they needed it most.
An LSU faceoff violation gave Florida possession, and Thomas sent a feed to the crease after drawing the LSU double team on a dodge from X. Though the pass did not find its intended mark, freshman midfielder Will Asher scooped the loose ball up off a bounce, set his feet, and muscled a shot past the LSU goalie that found top corner after deflecting off the keeper’s stick.
An LSU response made it 10-8, but the Gators closed the game out with a three-goal run to comfortably wrap up the win, 13-8.
“Florida-LSU is a rivalry no matter the sport,” said Florida coach Garrett Hanrahan. “Beating the Tigers and extending our streak in that rivalry to three wins is an accomplishment for our program. More importantly for this year’s Gators, beating a well-coached team that won a conference championship last year, went to the national tournament and entered this season ranked in the top 25 is a result to be proud of. This game tested our ability to play with a lead, to weather and respond to a run and to close a game out in the fourth quarter. We passed all those tests on Saturday night.”
Florida had little time to savor the rivalry win as a date with East Carolina awaited them at noon on Sunday.
Again, the away team scored first and this time the Gators found themselves fighting from behind for the entire first half. The Pirates and Gators traded goals until halftime with ECU holding the lead, 4-3.
The second half saw Florida’s freshmen continue their offensive roll, with midfielder Kolten Mortimer leading the way. Mortimer tied the score at four with his second goal of the day and freshman attackman Tyler Harry followed that up with a lefty high-crease finish to give the Gators their first lead of the day at 5-4.
Though Florida would not trail again, the Pirates would not go away. With eight seconds left in the game, the Gators were up by one and ECU had the ball coming out of a timeout. An on-ball pick in a dangerous area on the right wing tested the Gator defense’s mettle, but defenseman Mike Connelly and midfielder Thatcher Kelly handled the switch perfectly, disrupting the ECU dodge and forcing a panicked pass.
Senior captain Hayden Parks intercepted the ball, chucked it sky high, and time expired as the Gators locked up their second win of the weekend.
“It was great to come back home and win both of those games,” said Hanrahan. “I’m really proud of the way the guys were able to rebound after a hard weekend on the road and come together as a unit to defend home field. There were lots of big moments in both these games when the momentum could swing in either direction. We came out on top both days because a bunch of our guys stepped up in those moments to make a play.”
Florida packs up the bus and heads to Alabama to take on Auburn and Purdue this weekend followed by a trip to California facing off against UCLA and No. 3 Chapman.