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Saturday May 22, 2010No. 4 Baseball Captures SEC Title With 5-2 Win Over No. 6 South Carolina

Columbia, S.C.

Junior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning as No. 4 Florida (40-12/22-7 SEC) clinched its first Southeastern Conference title since 2005 with a 5-2 victory over No. 6 South Carolina (42-13/20-9 SEC) before a record crowd of 8,242 fans at Carolina Stadium on Friday night. Freshman Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (1-0) earned his first career win by working 1.1 scoreless innings in which he registered three strikeouts and junior Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) nailed down the victory with 1.2 scoreless and hitless innings to collect his 10th save, second in as many nights.

 

The Gators secured their 11th SEC crown in school history and league-best 20th divisional championship by overcoming a pair of one-run deficits and secured their first series win in Columbia since 1996 by taking the first two matchups against the Gamecocks. Third-year skipper Kevin O’Sullivan became the seventh head baseball coach at UF to bring home the SEC’s top prize and the Orange and Blue established a single-season mark with their 22nd league triumph. Florida’s current seven-game winning streak matches its season high and the Gators have now claimed 14 of their last 15 outings. In addition, the squad reached the 40-win plateau for the 19th time.

 

Tonight’s victory for Florida also secured the number one seed for next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., that will begin on Wednesday. The Gators will face the eighth seed in the third game at Regions Park at 5:30 p.m. The double-elimination tournament bracket will be revealed tomorrow night following the conclusion of the regular season.

 

With the contest deadlocked at 2-2 in the seventh, freshman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (1-for-3) led off with a base-hit up the middle off junior right-hander Sam Dyson (5-5). Sophomore Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) followed with a bunt in which junior pinch runner Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) was called safe at second and Pigott reached first. Sophomore Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) executed a sacrifice bunt to move both of his teammates into scoring position and Dyson countered with a strikeout of sophomore Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.). Adams (3-for-4, three RBI) grooved a 1-1 pitch into the gap in right center to score both Smith and Pigott and collect his second two-bagger of the night.

 

Adams provided the Gators with a valuable insurance run in the ninth by coming through with a two-out, two-strike RBI single into right field that brought in McMahan. McMahan had reached on a throwing error by junior third baseman Whit Merrifield with one out and took second on the play. Sophomore Steven Neff replaced junior Jose Mata (0.2 IP) and had senior pinch hitter Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) fly out to right field for the second out. Moments later, Adams drove in his third run of the game on a 0-2 count to give the visitors some breathing room. 

 

In the bottom of the ninth, freshman pinch hitter Evan Marzilli reached on a fielding error by Adams to start the frame. Chapman answered with a strikeout of Merrifield and had sophomore Jackie Bradley, Jr. (3-for-5) ground out, pushing Marzilli to third base. Moments later, the southpaw induced a game-ending fly ball by freshman Christian Walker that senior center fielder Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) snared to trigger a massive celebration on the diamond.

 

Back in the opening frame, the Gamecocks had two runners aboard with one down in the first against freshman Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) but were held at bay. Bradley, Jr. extended his hitting streak to eight games with a one-out single and Walker reached on a fielding error by freshman shortstop Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.), just his second miscue of the season. A fly ball by senior Jeffery Jones nudged Bradley, Jr. to third but Randall caught junior Adrian Morales looking on strikes to end the frame.    

 

Sophomore Adam Matthews (3-for-4, two runs) provided the hosts with a 1-0 advantage with a leadoff homer in the second. His sixth dinger went deep to left field. After senior Brady Thomas (3-for-3) followed with a single into right field, Randall buckled down to have senior Bobby Haney fly out before inducing back-to-back ground balls from junior Scott Wingo and Merrifield that closed the inning.

 

Bradley Jr. began the home part of the third with a base-hit through the left side of the infield and Randall answered by having Walker hit into a 6-4-3 double play and Jones fly out.

 

The Gators evened the game at a run apiece in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by freshman Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (1-for-3). den Dekker raised his hitting streak to 15 games with a leadoff single, the Gators’ first off Dyson, and moved into scoring position with his 21st stolen base. Sophomore Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-3) advanced his teammate with a grounder to first base and Maddox lofted his fifth sacrifice fly to straightaway center field to bring home den Dekker and collect his team-leading 64th RBI.  

 

South Carolina regained the one-run advantage in the bottom of the inning on a RBI single by Haney into left field. Matthews had roped a one-out single into left and Thomas executed the hit-and-run to perfection with a single through the left side of the infield for runners on the corners. Haney’s flare into left eluded the lunge of Fontana, scoring Matthews with the go-ahead run. Wingo laid down a bunt to try and advance his teammates but Randall fielded the ball and threw Thomas out at third. The right-hander worked out of further trouble by having Merrifield fly out to right. 

 

Although Bradley, Jr. notched his third hit with a leadoff double in the fifth, Randall retired the next three Gamecocks on pop-ups to leave the runner stranded on second base.

 

In the sixth, Tucker came through with a clutch two-out RBI triple to plate Adams for a 2-2 score. Adams had opened the stanza with his ninth double and was sacrificed over on a bunt by Fontana. Dyson set down den Dekker on a comebacker to the mound before Tucker sliced a 3-2 pitch just inside the first-base line to drive in Adams. The ball caromed off the wall down in right field and Tucker raced around the bases for his second three-bagger of the campaign. However, Dyson had Maddox ground out to keep the contest deadlocked.

 

After yielding a one-out single to Thomas, his third hit of the game, Randall was lifted in favor of Rodriguez. Over 5.1 innings, Randall gave up nine hits and two runs, with three strikeouts. Rodriguez fanned both Haney and Wingo to preserve the tie.

 

Rodriguez recorded the first two outs in the home part of the seventh before permitting a single to Walker. Sophomore Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) was summoned from the bullpen for Rodriguez, who struck out three of the five batters he faced. Senior pinch hitter Nick Ebert popped up Larson’s first pitch, which was snared by McMahan to complete the frame.

 

In the bottom of the eighth, Matthews singled to center field with one down off Larson (0.2 IP, 1 H), prompting another pitching change. Chapman had junior pinch hitter Parker Bangs ground out, moving Matthews into scoring position. The southpaw had junior pinch hitter Robert Beary ground out to Fontana, who made a tremendous play to nip the runner at first base.

 

Game Notes

·          Florida has captured SEC Championships in 1952, 1956, 1962, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2010.

·          Florida has won seven SEC titles in 2009-10 (baseball, women's cross country, gymnastics, soccer, women's tennis, women's indoor track & field, men's outdoor track & field) to lead the SEC. This is the third time UF has collected seven SEC titles in a single season (1996-97 & 1997-98). UF's highest total is eight (1991-92) and Georgia equaled the SEC record with eight titles in 2005-06.

·          The Gator bullpen has allowed one run and four hits over 9.1 innings to South Carolina, while limiting the Gamecocks to a .125 batting average the past two nights.

·          Kevin Chapman’s 10th save ties him with Paul Rigdon (1996) and Jamie McAndrew (1988) for sixth on the school’s single-season list.

·          Josh Adams delivered two doubles in an outing for the second time this season (LSU, 5/2) and the seventh time in his career.

·          Nolan Fontana’s only other error this season came at Tennessee on April 10. He had gone 89-straight chances without a miscue until tonight’s first inning.  

 

-UF-

 

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