Thursday June 4, 2009Baseball Faces Southern Miss With College World Series Berth On the Line
After collecting three-straight wins in its own NCAA Gainesville Regional, No. 9 Florida (42-20) will host No. 17 Southern Miss (38-24) in a best-of-three series at McKethan Stadium this weekend. The winner will advance to the 63rd NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb., that begins on Saturday, June 13. The Golden Eagles knocked off host Georgia Tech twice to claim the Atlanta Regional, including a 12-8 victory on Monday in a winner-take-all showdown.
The series opener will be on Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPNU. Game two will be at 7 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN2, with the third and deciding game to begin at either 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. on Monday if necessary.
Florida and Southern Miss have met just once before on the diamond, a 3-1 victory by the Golden Eagles on April 18, 1990, as part of the Diamond Club Classic in Mobile, Ala. USM is an even 2-2 against Southeastern Conference opponents in 2009, splitting a pair of meetings with Magnolia State rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
UCF and Ole Miss were the two common foes this year: Southern Miss swept three games from the Knights in Orlando (6-3, 26-10, 19-1) and the Gators posted a 16-3 win on April 8. The Golden Eagles fell to Ole Miss at home on April 22, 8-4, but then upended the Rebels in Pearl, Miss., 6-4, on April 28. Florida dropped two of three to the Rebels in Gainesville (2-6, 8-4, 3-5 (8)), but then ousted the league’s regular-season co-champion from the SEC Tourney, 12-2, on May 21.
Senior lefty Stephen Locke (Tampa, Fla.) (5-2, 4.02) is expected to start for the Gators on Saturday afternoon against USM junior right-hander J.R. Ballinger (6-3, 3.92). For Locke, it would be his team-leading 12th start and he has registered 45 K in 62.2 innings. The southpaw recorded his first career NCAA win last Saturday against Miami (Fla.).
The Gators will be making their third Super Regional appearance in school history, all in the past six years. UF was swept in Coral Gables, Fla., in 2004 by Miami and then rebounded the following season to oust Florida State in two games in Gainesville to punch its first ticket to Omaha in seven years. Southern Miss will be playing in the Super Regional round for the first time in school history.
In its Regional opener last Friday, top-seeded Florida rallied from a 7-5 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the ninth to stun fourth-seeded Bethune-Cookman, 8-7. The Gators defeated second-seeded Miami (Fla.), 8-2, in a winner’s bracket matchup on Saturday and then dominated the Hurricanes on Sunday night, 16-5, to secure their seventh Regional title.
Seeded third at the Atlanta Regional, Southern Miss edged second-seeded Elon in a slugfest at Russ Chandler Stadium, 17-15, and then downed top-seeded Georgia Tech, 10-7, the next night. Although the Yellow Jackets forced a deciding game with a 10-3 triumph on Sunday night, the Golden Eagles used a nine-run second-inning outburst on Monday to eliminate the Ramblin’ Wreck, 12-8.
This season marked the eighth time that McKethan Stadium has hosted NCAA Regional action and the first time since 2005. The Gators have gone on to the College World Series from Gainesville on four previous occasions: 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2005. Florida is 25-7 (.781) on its own turf during NCAA play and is riding a eight-game winning streak after sweeping both the 2005 NCAA Gainesville Regional and Super Regional rounds and notching three wins last weekend.
Freshman first baseman Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) was named the Gainesville Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after going 9-for-13 (.692) over the three games with six RBI, two homers and a slugging percentage of 1.231. The rookie was 4-for-5 in the triumph over Miami (Fla.) in the Regional final and notched three more RBI to give him 83 on the campaign, a single-season Florida record. The SEC’s Co-Freshman of the Year is hitting .357 and belted his team-leading 14th homer with a two-run jack as part of a seven-run, fifth-inning outburst that powered the Gators to the win in the finale.
The Gainesville Regional All-Tournament squad had an Orange and Blue tint to it, as Florida notched a team-high seven selections. In addition to Tucker, other recipients included sophomore second baseman Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) (.444, four runs, three RBI), junior outfielder Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) (five RBI), Locke (7.1 IP, 0 ER in the 8-2 win over UM), senior third baseman Brandon McArthur (Seffner, Fla.) (.583 avg., .615 OBP), junior shortstop Mike Mooney (Loxahatchee, Fla.) (three RBI, three runs) and junior outfielder Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (.438, six runs, four RBI).
Playing as the visiting team in the second meeting with Miami (Fla.) on Sunday night, the Gators shot out of the gates with five runs on five hits off in the top of the first inning and finished with 22 hits, the most under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and a figure which matched the most in school history during an NCAA Tournament game. All nine starters contributed at least one hit and eight players chipped in with multiple-hit efforts during the 16-5 triumph.
The 11-run victory was the largest margin for the Gators in an NCAA Tournament game since a 23-3 triumph over Notre Dame on June 5, 2005, at the NCAA Gainesville Regional and was also the team’s largest victory ever against UM in the NCAA Tourney.
Holding a 7-1 advantage, Florida sent 12 batters to the plate in the fifth inning and tallied seven runs on nine hits to put the contest firmly out of reach. Not only did Tucker and Adams belt back-to-back homers, the Gators had a stretch of seven two-out hits in a row to balloon their lead to 14-1.
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the offensive numbers put up on the board was the strong performance of UF’s relievers, which tossed 4.1 scoreless frames. The Regional championship marked the first time in 11 attempts that Florida emerged victorious when Miami was part of the field.
In his five games against Miami this season, McArthur was 9-for-20 (.450), with five RBI, three runs and a double. Over his last 12 games, the third baseman is hitting .486 (18-for-37) with nine RBI and three doubles. In his eight career NCAA Tournament games in Gainesville, McArthur is 11-for-32 (.344) with nine RBI, four runs and three doubles. In addition, he has an RBI in seven of those NCAA contests at McKethan Stadium.
Behind 7.1 strong innings from Locke and a four-run third inning, Florida downed Miami (Fla.), 8-2, in a winner’s bracket game at the NCAA Gainesville Regional on Saturday night. Locke (5-2) held the Hurricanes to six singles and two runs (zero earned), with three strikeouts and a walk. The southpaw was supported by a balanced offense that totaled 10 hits, three doubles and a solo homer by Pigott, who was 2-for-5 and scored twice. The win was the first for the Gators over UM this season after suffering a three-game sweep at home in February.
A two-run, walk-off single by senior Teddy Foster (Jacksonville, Fla.) capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth as UF nipped Bethune-Cookman, 8-7, on to begin Regionals. With Florida down to its final three outs and down by two runs, Tucker (3-for-5, two runs, two RBI) opened the final frame with a single through the left side. Adams drew his second walk of the game and den Dekker stroked an RBI single into right field to score Tucker for a 7-6 count. Freshman Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach , Fla.) was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out and Foster sliced a 3-1 offering into right to plate Adams and den Dekker with the tying and winning run, respectively. After the Orange and Blue trailed 4-0, senior Patrick Keating (Harrisburg, Ill.) threw three scoreless innings with four strikeouts to keep the hosts within striking distance. The win also enabled UF to reach the 40-win plateau for the 18th time in school history, first since the 2005 club went 48-23.
· Out of Florida’s 42 victories this year, 27 (13 against SEC foes) have been of the come-from-behind variety.
· In the SEC statistics, the Gators’ pitching staff is third in earned run average (4.16), their offense is fifth in batting average (.310) and fielding percentage is 12th (.966). Through the 30 league games, UF’s offense (.312) and pitching (4.65) were second and the .969 fielding percentage was eighth.
· Tucker’s school-record 83 RBI are second in the SEC behind Georgia’s Rich Poythress (86).
· Junior Billy Bullock’s (Balm, Fla.) 11 saves are third in the SEC behind the 15 by LSU’s Matty Ott. Bullock’s save total is the most since Josh Fogg tied the school record held by Danny Wheeler (1994) with 13 in 1998.
· Senior Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.) leads the league with six triples, the most by a Gator in a season since Tripp MacKay had six in 1994. Barnes’ 12 career three-baggers are third at UF, trailing Brian Duva (21, 1991-94) and Rob Teegarden (15, 1978-79). He also paces the conference with 74 runs.
· Mooney’s on-base percentage of .455 is ninth in the SEC and his 33 walks are third on the squad.
· Florida is 16-for-74 (.216) pinch-hitting entering NCAA Super Regionals. Daniel Pigott is the top sub, going 5-for-12 (.417).
· Newcomers to the program have started 42 of the Gators’ 62 games this year: Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) (11), Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) (10), Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (10), Jeff Barfield (Perry, Ga.) (7), Justin Poovey (Granite Falls, N.C.) (3) and Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (1). The group is a combined 22-13.
· Tucker is 8-for-15 (.533) with the bases loaded and has 22 RBI and a pair of grand slams. As a team, the Orange and Blue is 36-for-98 (.367) with 103 RBI and five slams.
· Five of Bullock’s 11 earned runs allowed this year came during his two appearances versus Arkansas.
· Adams begins the weekend on a career-high 11-game hitting streak in which he is 17-for-42 (.405) with 12 RBI and 11 runs. The All-SEC performer rates third on the squad in batting average (.343) and is second in RBI (50), doubles (10) and homers (8).
· Jonathan Pigott has started the last 17 games in right field and has responded with a .375 (27-for-72) average with 22 RBI, nine extra-base hits and six walks during the stretch.
· Florida’s starting pitchers are 20-12 with a 4.94 earned run average in 287.2 innings, with 207 strikeouts and 77 walks. Locke (5-2, 4.02), DeSclafani (4-2, 5.90) and Panteliodis (4-3, 5.64) were the Gators’ starters last weekend..
· The Gator bullpen is 22-8 with a 3.29 ERA and has collected 13 saves in 259.2 innings, with 205 K and 105 walks. Junior Tony Davis (Cooper City, Fla.) (5-0, 2.27) is second behind Bullock (3-1, 11 saves, 1.87) in relief innings pitched and has held the opposition to a .200 clip.
· Opposing left-handed hitters are just 12-for-58 (.207) against Davis, who has limited foes to a 7-for-51 (.137) average with two outs.
· In his last nine appearances dating back to May 1 at Georgia, Keating is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA over 15.1 innings, with 13 strikeouts and one walk. The right-hander has appeared in 21 games this year, with seven starts, and is 4-3 with a 4.66 ERA.
· Florida’s starting trio of Locke, DeSclafani and Panteliodis are the only top-three starters (min. 10 starts) of any team left in the NCAA Tournament to combine for less than 60 walks. The senior and two freshmen have walked just 47 batters all year.
· UF’s team-batting average of .310 is .04 points away from entering the Top-10 list for highest batting average in a single season in school history.
· The Orange and Blue’s 473 runs this season are already 10th-most in school history in a single season, and could easily move up this weekend (9. 2001 – 475; 8. 1979 – 479; 7. 1981 – 491).
· The Gators’ total of 668 hits is good for the 10th-most in school history and is 23 hits away from tying the 2001 squad (691) for ninth-most all-time.
· Florida is five home runs away from tying the 2004 squad (70) for 10th-most home runs all-time in a single season in school history.
· The Gators are already ninth with 990 total bases, and need 11 more to tie the 1981 squad for eighth.
· UF is tied with the 1988 College World Series squad with 28 sacrifice flies for ninth-most in a single season in school history. Meanwhile, the clubs’ 42 sacrifice bunts are third-most in school history, trailing just the 2002 (49) and the 1996 (44) squads.
· Despite ranking 12th in the SEC in fielding, Florida’s defense is actually .01 percentage point away from tying the 2003 and 1993 (.967) teams for the fourth-best fielding percentage in school history.
· UF’s 2.93 walks per game is the fourth-lowest total and the Gators have scored seven runs or more in 33 of their 42 wins.
· Adams currently has the third-highest batting average (.343) of any second baseman in school history. Adams needs 11 hits to tie Adam Davis’ 2005 mark of 90 hits for the third-most by a second baseman in a season in school history and is seven RBI away from tying Mark Kiger’s 2000 mark of 57 RBI in a season for third by a Gator 2B.
· Barnes’ 74 runs this season are good for 10th all-time at UF and he is third all-time in school history in runs scored by an outfielder during a year.
· Bullock is two appearances away from tying three other UF players’ mark of 35 for third-most in an individual season in school history. He is currently tied with John Pricher (11 in 1992) for the fourth-most saves in a single season in school history. Bullock’s opponent’s batting average of .226 is just .03 points away from tying Justin Hoyman (2004) for the 10th-lowest in a campaign.
· Davis is five appearances away from tying three other UF players’ mark of 35 for third-most in an individual season in school history. His opponent batting average of .200 is be tied with Doug Brennan (1992) for the fourth-lowest in school history in a single season. If Davis (5-0) records one more win without setback, he will tie Jim Biggart (1962), Kenny Birch (2000) and Eddie Rojas (2000) for the best winning percentage (min. six decisions) in school history (1.000).
· den Dekker’s 14 hit-by-pitches is tied with Brian Rose (2001) and Tim Olson (2000) for the sixth-most all-time in a single season in school history. The center fielder is tied with eight other players for 10th-most sacrifice flies all-time in a season with six. The junior’s seven sacrifice bunts are two away from entering the top-10 list in a season.