Saturday May 15, 2010Walk-Off Homer Lifts No. 4 Baseball Past UGA, 4-3
Sophomore Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) led off the bottom of the ninth with a solo homer as No. 4 Florida (36-12/19-7 SEC) upended Georgia (14-35/3-21 SEC), 4-3, on Saturday afternoon in front of 4,932 fans at McKethan Stadium. The Bulldogs had tied the game in the top of the inning on a two-out RBI single before the Gators answered with their second-straight walk-off victory to clinch their seventh-consecutive league series.
With Florida holding a 3-2 lead, junior Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) registered the first two outs in the ninth before sophomore third baseman Jerico Weitzel (Ridgway, Pa.) misplayed sophomore Carson Schilling’s grounder for an error. After sophomore Peter Verdin lined a single off Chapman’s leg for two runners aboard, sophomore Johnathan Taylor (3-for-5) tied the game with a clutch single into center field that plated Schilling. However, Verdin was caught in a run-down between second and third to end the inning.
McMahan then opened the home part of the frame by sending a 1-1 offering from senior Steve Esmonde (2-1) over the wall in left center to give the Gators the victory. It was his second homer of the campaign and marked the Orange and Blue’s fourth walk-off triumph of the season. Chapman improved to 3-0 with the decision.
“It feels awesome, there’s really no other way to describe it,” McMahan said. “Doing it here for the home crowd, you work for that moment and to be able to do it is amazing. We always battle to the end and we’re always fighting to the very last out. You can probably see from watching us, but we never quit so we’re always fighting. Even if we’re down, I always feel like we’re going to come back and win every single ballgame.”
“Their pitcher did a nice job again, it doesn’t surprise me,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We knew that they had talented arms, and they picked this weekend to throw arguably their two best games. It’s good for our team, we need to see arms like these because these are the type of arms you see in the postseason. It’s awfully fun to see a guy like Ben McMahan come up to bat and do something like hitting a game-winning home run because he’s worked really hard. He deserves to be the guy in the spotlight. It’s good to see guys like that and their hard work pay off.”
The Gators broke the ice in the first inning on a wild pitch by senior Jeff Walters that allowed senior Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) (1-for-4, two runs) to score. Freshman Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk but was forced at second base on a fielder’s choice by den Dekker. Sophomore Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4) followed with a single that moved den Dekker to third and Walters uncorked a wild pitch that allowed den Dekker to come home.
Georgia grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third with four hits off freshman Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.). Redshirt freshman Kevin Ruiz (3-for-4) started the frame with a single into left field and moved to second with his first career stolen base as Randall struck out freshman Zach Taylor. Sophomore Christian Glisson (2-for-2) tied the game with a base-hit up the middle and a two-out single by Johnathan Taylor left runners on the corners. Sophomore Levi Hyams sliced a single through the left side of the infield that scored Glisson and moved the Bulldogs in front. den Dekker robbed sophomore Zach Cone of potential extra bases with yet another highlight reel catch in center field to end the inning.
Florida answered with den Dekker’s 10th homer over the right-field fence to begin the home part of the inning. The round-tripper raised his hitting streak to 11 games and knotted the game at 2-2.
Glisson began the fifth with an infield hit and was replaced by sophomore pinch runner Lance Martin. Verdin laid down a bunt to try and advance his teammate, only to have Randall throw Martin out at second base. After Zunino gunned down Verdin attempting to steal second, Johnathan Taylor roped a two-out triple to the wall in right center. Randall kept the contest tied by having Hyams ground out to first.
Randall retired the first two hitters of the sixth inning before yielding consecutive singles to freshman Robert Shipman and Ruiz, prompting a pitching change. Freshman Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) took over for Randall (5.2 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 5 K) and fanned sophomore pinch hitter Chase Davidson to strand the runners.
Tucker and freshman Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) started the home part of the frame with back-to-back singles and Walters had freshman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) ground into a 4-6-3 double play, pushing Tucker to third. Walter let loose his second wild pitch of the game, enabling Tucker to come racing home to give the Gators a 3-2 advantage.
Walters departed after six innings in which he permitted four hits and three runs, with a career-high eight strikeouts and a pair of walks. Sophomore Cecil Tanner set down the first two batters before plunking senior Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.), who then moved into scoring position with his third stolen base. Fontana earned a free pass and a wild pitch on ball four enabled Pigott to reach third. Senior Justin Earls was called in from the bullpen and had den Dekker ground out to first to hold Georgia’s deficit at a run.
In the eighth, Cone stroked a one-out single up the middle to cause a pitching move by the Gators. Chapman took over for Rodriguez (1.2 IP, 1 H, 3 K) and had a wild pitch to push Cone to second. A grounder by freshman Kyle Farmer advanced Cone to third but Chapman had Shipman ground out to preserve UF’s lead until the ninth.
Georgia held a 12-6 advantage in hits, as three different players turned in multiple-hit outings. Johnson (4-2, 3.74) will face sophomore RHP Michael Palazzone (4-5, 8.77) in Sunday’s finale at 1 p.m. that will be shown on GatorVision Online. Johnson is 3-0 with a 2.34 ERA at home, with victories over USF (5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R), Vanderbilt (5.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R) and No. 9 LSU (6.1 IP, 9 H, 3 R).
· Florida claimed the series against Georgia for the fourth-straight year and has a seven-game winning streak against the Bulldogs.
· Seniors Jeff Barfield, Matt den Dekker, Clint Franklin, Jonathan Pigott, Jandy Rosabal, Chas Spottswood and Hampton Tignor were honored in pregame ceremonies, as well as managers J.A. Colasanti and Michael Miller.
· Matt den Dekker (10) joined Austin Maddox (16) as Gators with double-digit homers this season.
· Ben McMahan’s most recent homer before today came on Feb. 25 against Siena.
· The Gators improved to 7-9 this year when out-hit by their opponent.
· Mike Zunino’s career-high 12-game hitting streak ended with a 0-for-2 performance and Brian Johnson went 0-for-3 to have his career-high eight-game skein snapped.
· Preston Tucker collected his 17th multiple-hit game of the season.
· The Gators were held to six hits for the second-straight game by UGA.