Sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) delivered a walk-off single with one down and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to lift top-seeded Florida (47-16) past second-seeded Miami (Fla.) (37-22), 5-4, in the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Gainesville Regional on Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium.
The Hurricanes will meet third-seeded Jacksonville (37-23) in an elimination game tomorrow at 12 p.m., with the survivor needing to defeat the Gators twice to advance to next weekend’s NCAA Super Regional. Florida will face tomorrow afternoon’s winner at 4 p.m., live on ESPNU.
With the contest deadlocked at 4-4, junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) reached on a one-out error by UM sophomore shortstop Stephen Perez and advanced to second base when junior reliever Travis Miller (2-2) was charged with a balk. Redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) (1-for-3) earned a free pass for two Gators aboard and junior closer Daniel Miranda was called in from the bullpen. With sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) at the plate, the lefty uncorked a wild pitch to advance both runners into scoring position. Dent worked a walk on a 3-2 count to fill the sacks and set the stage for Fontana (2-for-5), who sliced a 1-1 pitch into left field to drive in Pigott with the winning run. It was the Gators’ second walk-off victory of the season, the last courtesy of an RBI single by Pigott to edge No. 4 Florida State on March 15, 5-4, in 10 innings. Junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) (5-3) earned the win after notching three-consecutive outs in the ninth after permitting a leadoff double.
“It was a great game,” UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Both teams played very well, back-and-forth, all game long. We knew when we had a 4-2 lead that the game was certainly far from over and they battled all day at the plate. I thought we threw the ball pretty good and I thought Miami had good at-bats all day. You’ve got to tip your cap to our guys. I was really proud of the way they battled all day. It was a hard-fought game by both sides. We just happened to get some breaks at the end, but I’m awfully proud about the way we played all day long.”
Back in the first inning, the Gators put two runners aboard against sophomore Eric Whaley but came away empty-handed. Senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (2-for-3) was hit by a pitch with one down and freshman right fielder Dale Carey made a tremendous diving catch to rob junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4, two doubles) of potential extra bases. Sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-4) sliced a two-out single into left field and Whaley worked out of trouble by having a fielder’s choice from senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) force Zunino at second to end the frame.
Miami opened the scoring against sophomore Hudson Randall (Atlanta. Ga.) in the third inning on a sacrifice fly into center field by junior Nathan Melendres. Freshman Brad Fieger (2-for-4) had started the stanza with his 13th double and was sacrificed to third on a bunt by freshman Shane Rowland. Sophomore Zeke DeVoss (2-for-4) drew a walk for runners on the corners and Melendres lofted his second sac fly of the campaign to break the ice.
Perez provided the Hurricanes with a 2-0 lead in the fourth with an RBI double. Junior Harold Martinez led off with a base-hit into left field and scored on Perez’s 12th two-bagger of the season into left center with one down. After Carey grounded out, Perez notched his 14th theft by taking third base. Randall had Fieger ground out to keep the Gators down by two runs.
Florida answered with three doubles in the bottom of the inning to even the game at 2-2. Tucker opened with a two-bagger into the right-field corner and Zunino followed with his team-leading 21st double into left center to put the hosts on the board. Adams sacrificed Zunino to third base with a bunt and third baseman Fieger dropped a one-out pop-up in foul territory by junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) for an error. Moments later, Thompson tied the contest with his fifth double of the season to right field. Thompson was erased at third base on a fielder’s choice by junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.), who was caught stealing to complete the inning.
In the fifth, DeVoss reached on a one-out infield single and Melendres was hit by a pitch. Randall worked out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts of junior Rony Rodriguez and Martinez.
The Gators seized a 4-2 lead in the bottom part of the inning. Ramjit doubled down the left-field line to raise his hitting streak to six games and Dent popped up a bunt attempt for the first out. Fontana singled into left field, moving Ramjit to third, and a fielding error on the play by left fielder Rodriguez enabled Ramjit to score. A throwing error by DeVoss allowed Fontana to occupy second base and Smith followed with a single into left field to give UF runners on the corners. Tucker delivered his second double of the game to bring in Fontana. Whaley prevented further trouble by striking out Zunino and having Adams fly out.
Miami narrowed the gap to 4-3 in the sixth on a two-out RBI single by Fieger. Randall retired the first two Hurricanes before Carey doubled just inside of the third-base bag. Fieger collected his second hit of the afternoon with a knock into left field to plate Carey.
Freshman Adam Sargent took over for Whaley (5.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R) prior to the Gators’ sixth and surrendered a leadoff single to Thompson. The right-hander had Pigott foul out to first base and then induced an inning-ending double play grounder by Ramjit.
Junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) replaced Randall (6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 5 K, 2 BB) at the outset of the seventh and gave up a base-hit to DeVoss. Melendres sacrificed his teammate into scoring position with a bunt up the first-base line and Rodriguez tied the game with an RBI single into left field. A fielder’s choice by Martinez forced Rodriguez at second for the second out and junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) was summoned to the bullpen for Larson (0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R) and Fontana made a strong stop on a grounder by sophomore pinch hitter Chad Kreuter that forced Martinez to end the inning and keep the contest tied.
junior reliever Sam Robinson retired the Gators in order to finish the seventh,
Carey drew a one-out walk in the eighth. With Carey attempting to steal second
base, Fieger was called for batter’s interference, resulting in the second out.
Rowland stroked a single into right field to push Carey to third and Maronde
countered with a strikeout of DeVoss to preserve the stalemate.
Robinson set down UF 1-2-3 in the eighth and Toledo came in for Maronde (1.1 IP, 1 H) to begin the ninth. Melendres led off with a double down the left-field line and Toledo had Rodriguez ground out to Fontana, keeping the runner at second base. After Toledo caught Martinez looking on strikes, he had sophomore pinch hitter Chantz Mack hit a comebacker to the mound. The righty fielded the ball and fired a strike to Ramjit to end the frame.
In the ninth, Robinson struck out Thompson and was replaced by Miller. Over 2.1 innings, Robinson totaled three strikeouts and put down all seven Gators he faced. Florida held an 11-10 advantage in hits and has now defeated Miami seven-straight times.
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