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Thursday June 9, 2011No. 1 Florida & No. 16 Mississippi State Square Off With College World Series Berth On The Line (Noon, ESPN2)

Gainesville, Fla.

After collecting three-straight wins in its own NCAA Gainesville Regional, No. 1 Florida (48-16) will host No. 16 Mississippi State (37-23) in a best-of-three series at McKethan Stadium this weekend. The winner will advance to the 65th NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb., that starts next Saturday, June 18. The opener between the SEC rivals will be on Friday at 12 p.m. (ESPN2), game two will be on Saturday at 12 p.m. (ESPN) and Sunday’s if-necessary contest would be at 1 p.m. (ESPN). All three games can be heard on WRUF SportsRadio 850.

 

Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (9-3, 2.38) will draw the start in the first matchup and will face either MSU junior left-hander Nick Routt (3-3, 3.78) or freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell (6-1, 3.47). Randall has registered 54 strikeouts and issued 10 walks over a team-leading 102 innings and has limited opponents to a .237 average.

 

The Gators will be making their third-consecutive Super Regional appearance and the fifth in school history, all in the past eight years. UF was swept in Coral Gables 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. The Gators dropped two in a row to Southern Miss at home in Super Regionals in 2009 and handled Miami in two games last season to reach the CWS for the sixth time and first under Kevin O’Sullivan. The Bulldogs will be playing in the Super Regional round for the fourth time in school history.

 

In its Regional opener last Friday, top-seeded UF dominated fourth-seeded Manhattan, 17-3. The Gators used a walk-off single in the ninth to edge second-seeded Miami (Fla.), 5-4, in a winner’s bracket matchup on Saturday and then defeated the Hurricanes again on Sunday, 11-4, to lock up their ninth Regional title. Seeded third at the Atlanta Regional, Mississippi State blanked second-seeded Southern Miss, 3-0, and then downed fourth-seeded Austin Peay, 8-3, the next night. The Bulldogs eliminated top-seeded host Georgia Tech, 7-3, to secure their first Super Regional berth since 2007.

 

O’Sullivan has directed the Gators to three-straight NCAA Super Regionals after the program had made a pair of appearances under Pat McMahon (2004, 2005). UF is seeking to reach the College World Series in consecutive seasons for the first time after making the trek to the Midwest in 1998, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2010.

 

This season marked the 10th time that McKethan Stadium has hosted NCAA Regional action and the third-straight year for the first time in school history. The Gators have gone on to the College World Series from Gainesville on five previous occasions: 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2010. Florida is 33-9 (.786) on its own turf during NCAA play and swept the Regional and Super Regional rounds held in Gainesville last season. O’Sullivan is 11-2 (.846) in NCAA play at home, 9-0 (1.000) in Regionals and 2-2 (.500) in Super Regionals.

 

Junior right fielder Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) was named the Gainesville Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, becoming the first Gator to earn MOP accolades twice in his career (2009, 2011). Over three games, he hit a scorching .500 (7-for-14) with 11 RBI, six runs, three homers and three doubles. In the opening round against Manhattan, he went 3-for-6 and belted two-run shots in both the second and third innings on his way to a five-RBI afternoon. In the first meeting with Miami, Tucker went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and scored a run. The slugger launched a three-run bomb over the right-field wall in the rematch with the Hurricanes on Sunday during the first stanza and was 2-for-4 with five RBI and two runs. Tucker tied the school record of seven career homers in the NCAA Tournament with Mario Linares (1988-91) and now has 26 RBI in NCAA play, surpassing Linares’ previous standard of 25 RBI. In 15 NCAA postseason contests, Tucker is hitting .431 (28-for-65).

 

The Gainesville Regional All-Tournament squad had an Orange and Blue tint to it, as Florida notched a team-high six selections. In addition to MOP Tucker, other recipients included sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (.313, three RBI, three runs, game-winning single vs. Miami (Fla.)), junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (6.2 IP, 5 H, 4 K in the 11-4 win over UM), junior outfielders Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (.357, four RBI, three runs) and Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) (.538, four RBI, four runs, two doubles) and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (.455, five runs, three RBI, two doubles, homer).

 

Tucker drove in five runs, Panteliodis carried a shutout into the seventh inning and Florida exploded for eight runs on seven hits in the third frame on its way to an 11-4 victory over Miami (Fla.) to capture the NCAA Gainesville Regional.It was the third year in a row that the Gators have ended UM’s season. Tucker (2-for-4) provided UF with a quick lead with a three-run homer in the top of the first inning and the Gators sent a dozen batters to the plate in the third and expanded their lead to 11-0. Redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) went 3-for-4 against his former team, while senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) was 2-for-4 with two hits in the third inning and scored three runs. Florida defeated the Hurricanes for a school-record eighth-consecutive contest, passing the seven-game winning streak from Feb. 19, 2005-Feb. 18, 2007.

 

Fontana delivered a walk-off single with one down and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to lift Florida past Miami (Fla.), 5-4, in the winner’s bracket game on Saturday afternoon. With the contest deadlocked at 4-4, Pigott reached on a one-out error and advanced to second on a balk. Ramjit 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, a wild pitch advanced 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.

 

Florida banged out a school-NCAA Tourney record 23 hits and totaled 16 runs over its first three at bats to overpower fourth-seeded Manhattan, 17-3, last Friday. Tucker (3-for-6, five RBI) belted two-run homers in both the second and third inning, Pigott was 4-for-5 with three RBI, Thompson was 4-for-4 and freshman Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) earned the win to improve to 8-0 on the campaign. Tucker and Zunino (3-for-4, three runs) had back-to-back homers in the second inning and eight different players chipped in with multiple-hit efforts. The top four hitters in the lineup, Fontana, Smith, Tucker and Zunino, were a combined 10-for-20 (.500) with 10 RBI and 10 runs and Florida batted .511 (23-for-45) as a squad.

 

Florida and Mississippi State have already met four times this season, a three-game series in Starkville from April 8-10 and in the first round of the SEC Tourney on May 25. The Bulldogs posted a 7-5 victory in the initial encounter but the Gators have emerged on top in the last three outings (18-0, 3-1, 7-5).

 

Sophomore Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) belted a grand slam in the seventh inning to turn a 5-2 deficit into an eventual 7-5 win for third-seeded Florida over sixth-seeded Mississippi State on day one of the SEC Tourney. With the Gators trailing by a 5-2 score entering the bottom of the seventh, Smith was hit by a pitch and Tucker (2-for-4, two RBI) drew a walk from freshman Taylor Stark to cause a pitching change. Sophomore Luis Pollorena (6-5) came in for Stark (1.0 IP, 2 BB) and surrendered a single into center field to Zunino (2-for-5) that loaded the bases with none out. Johnson sent a fly ball into right field that appeared to be headed foul but instead cleared the right-field wall in fair territory to empty the bases and give Florida 6-5 lead. It was Johnson’s fifth homer of the campaign, his third career grand slam and the sixth grand slam for the Orange and Blue this season.

 

Florida tacked on an insurance run in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Tucker. Dent (1-for-2, two walks) had drawn a leadoff walk, was sacrificed to second by Fontana and went to third on a fly-out by Smith. Tucker delivered a base-knock into left field to bring home Dent and put the Gators ahead by two runs but was later thrown out at the plate attempting to score on a single into left field by Zunino. After sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (3-1) pitched 1.2 scoreless and hitless innings, sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) took the mound in the ninth and set down the first two Bulldogs on fly balls. Senior Cody Freeman kept the game alive with a single into right center and Maddox responded by catching redshirt senior Jarrod Parks looking on strikes to close the contest and register his team-leading fourth save.

 

Florida captured its sixth-consecutive SEC road series from April 8-10 at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs took the opener, 7-5, before the Gators responded with an 18-0 triumph on Saturday and a 3-1 win in Sunday’s rubber game. UF’s 9-3 start to SEC play equaled the program’s best since 1996, when that squad finished 20-10 and tied for the league crown with Alabama and LSU. The Gators batted .333 (39-for-117) over the three games in Starkville, led by Zunino (6-for-12, six runs, six RBI, two doubles, grand slam) and freshman Zack Powers (Seffner, Fla.) (4-for-8, two runs, two walks). Maddox went 5-for-14 (.357) and preserved the series triumph with his first career save after coming into Sunday’s game with one out and the bases loaded. UF’s pitching staff registered a 2.77 earned run average, with 23 strikeouts and five walks.

 

Tucker delivered a two-out, two-run single to snap a 1-1 tie in the seventh to lift UF to a 3-1 victory in the decisive game three. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with one down in the ninth but Maddox took over on the mound and retired the final two batters to collect his first career save. With MSU down to its final three outs, junior Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.) entered the ballgame and issued a leadoff single before getting a strikeout. Freshman Adam Frazier hit a comebacker to the mound that DeSclafani threw away while trying to get the lead runner at second base, resulting in a couple of runners aboard. Senior Jaron Shepherd poked a single into left field to fill the bags and prompt a pitching change. Senior Wes Thigpen greeted Maddox with a liner into right field and sophomore Kamm Washington made a tremendous sprawling catch for the out and managed to hold the runners. Facing freshman C.T. Bradford, Maddox was ahead in the count 0-2 and induced a pop-up in foul territory that third baseman Powers snagged up against the netting to complete the game.

 

Zunino belted a grand slam during an eight-run second inning and drove in five runs as the Gators evened the series with an 18-0 shutout on Saturday afternoon. All nine Gator starters had at least one hit in UF’s most lopsided triumph over the Bulldogs in school history. Johnson (5-1) tossed six scoreless innings to earn the win and was followed to the mound by freshman Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) (2.0 IP, 2 H) and senior Matt Campbell (Tampa, Fla.) (1.0 IP) in Florida’s seventh shutout of the season, matching the program’s most since 1993. The Gator offense recorded then-season-bests in SEC action for runs (18) and hits (18) and the 18 runs at the time were the most scored by UF in conference play since a 24-2 win at Auburn on April 11, 2009. Florida exploded for a season-high eight runs in the second inning, highlighted by a grand slam by Zunino (3-for-4, career-high four runs), who had a pair of hits in the frame. Fontana was 2-for-4 with two RBI and a pair of runs, senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) went 2-for-5 with a couple of RBI singles, Maddox was 2-for-5 and scored twice and Pigott (2-for-6, two runs) tallied three RBI.

 

Mississippi State rode a four-run first inning and a pair of homers by senior Jonathan Ogden to a 7-5 series-opening victory. The Gators pulled within two runs in the sixth but were held scoreless for the final three innings by the duo of freshman Taylor Stark and junior Caleb Reed, who registered four K over the last two frames to pick up a save. MSU handed Randall his first defeat after five wins by totaling nine hits and six runs over the first 2.1 innings. Randall entered the game having allowed six runs (three earned) in 49.2 innings. Tucker was 3-for-5, while the trio of Adams, Johnson and Zunino chipped in with two hits apiece.

 

Prior to coming to Florida, O’Sullivan was the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Clemson. In 2007, the Tigers were defeated by Mississippi State in the Super Regional held in Starkville on June 8-9 (8-6, 8-5). Five days later, O’Sullivan was introduced as the 21st head baseball coach in school history by Athletics Director Jeremy Foley.

 

Gator Bytes

*Kevin O’Sullivan is 6-1 (.857) against Mississippi State, 3-0 (1.000) in Gainesville, 2-1 (.667) in Starkville and 1-0 (1.000) at the SEC Tournament.

*O’Sullivan has an 11-6 (.647) NCAA Tournament mark, going 9-2 (.818) in Regionals, 2-2 (.500) in Super Regionals and 0-2 (.000) at the College World Series.

*O’Sullivan was the first Florida head coach to capture three NCAA Regional titles and jwas the first to lead the Gators to three Super Regionals.

*In his four years at Florida, O’Sullivan is 122-25 (.830) at McKethan Stadium, 40-38 (.513) at opponents’ stadiums and 9-16 (.360) at neutral sites.

*The only home weekend series that the Gators have dropped this season came at the hands of defending national champion South Carolina (L, W, L).

*USC’s series victory ended a stretch of 13-consecutive weekend series triumphs for Florida and marked the Gators’ first loss in a league series since March 26-28, 2010, at Ole Miss and the squad’s first conference series setback at home since April 17-19, 2009, to Ole Miss.

*UF is 34-8 (.810) against non-ranked teams and 14-8 (.636) versus top-25 foes in ’11.

*The Gators were 34-8 (.810) in games that are part of a weekend series and were 7-7 (.500) in mid-week contests. The Orange and Blue had a 12-2 (.857) weekend series ledger, with eight sweeps.

*The Orange and Blue was 20-15 (.571) against the NCAA Tourney field, meaning that 15 of its 16 defeats on the campaign came against clubs that reached Regionals. The lone exception was Kentucky (14-1 loss on May 20).

*Florida’s total of 48 wins equals its most since 2005, when the national runner-up Gators were 48-23. UF has reached the 50-victory plateau twice (51-21 in 1991 and 50-18 in 1996).

*This weekend’s series will mark the first time that UF has faced an SEC opponent in Super Regionals, as it had played Miami (Fla.) (2004, 2010), Florida State (2005) and Southern Miss (2009) in prior trips.

*Senior Josh Adams continues to climb the school’s career charts. Entering the NCAA Super Regional, he ranks first in starts (244) and is second with 245 games played, two behind Mario Linares (247, 1988-91). He is also second in at bats (911 - Mark Ellis, 1996-99, 941 is first) and is second with 279 hits, trailing only Ellis (319).

*With 120 career walks, Adams’ is tied for ninth on the school’s all-time list with Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05). Adams is currently fifth in career RBI (185) behind teammate Preston Tucker (199) and No. 3 Ben Harrison (193, 2001-04). Tucker’s next RBI will put him in the 200 club behind only Brad Wilkerson (214, 1996-98) and Matt LaPorta (206, 2004-07).

*The trio of sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (6-1, 1.76), freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 1.40) and sophomore LHP Brian Johnson (7-1, 2.92) are a combined 21-2 (.913) with a 2.01 ERA at McKethan Stadium this season.

*Florida’s bullpen is 15-6 with 14 saves and a 3.16 ERA in 245.0 innings, its starters are 33-10 with a 2.83 ERA in 327.0 innings.

*The Gators have a .341 batting average against left-handed pitchers and a .294 clip against right-handers.

*Florida holds a 413-223 scoring advantage, led by a 58-15 disparity in the second inning and a 59-29 margin in the seventh. UF has the edge in every inning and has 4-0 advantage in extra innings.

*Florida is 36-6 (.857) when scoring first and 39-2 (.951) when out-hitting its foe.

*UF has 58 homers this season and boasts a 32-5 (.865) record when going yard.

*The Gators have played error-free baseball in 23 games (19-4) and their fielding percentage of .974 ranks second in the SEC. UF had one error in three games in the Gainesville Regional last weekend.

*Florida has totaled 134 two-out RBI, including 21 by sophomore Mike Zunino, 19 apiece by junior Daniel Pigott and Tucker, 14 by sophomore Nolan Fontana and 13 by Adams.

*Sophomore Austin Maddox has made 19 relief appearances totaling 24.1 innings and has compiled a 0.74 ERA with 21 K and three walks. The righty picked up two saves in the SEC Tourney against Mississippi State and Georgia.

*Junior Nick Maronde has made a team-high 31 appearances and is 0-0 with a 1.66 ERA and two saves in 38.0 innings. The lefty has 50 strikeouts and seven walks. Just six of the 24 hits he has permitted have been for extra bases (three doubles, three homers). Foes have a .179 clip against Maronde and opposing batters are 5-for-54 (.093) against him with runners on base.

*Junior Greg Larson sports a 2.25 ERA in 28 appearances and has held opponents to a .252 average.

*UF’s 14 saves have come from six different relievers: senior Matt Campbell (1), junior Anthony DeSclafani (3), Maddox (5), Maronde (2), sophomore Steven Rodriguez (2) and junior Tommy Toledo (1). Kevin Chapman collected 11 of the club’s 18 saves last season.

*Toledo’s relief win in the finale at Vanderbilt was the 10th victory of his career. Now with a 12-9 mark, he joins junior Alex Panteliodis (23-10), Randall (17-7), Johnson (14-7) and DeSclafani (13-9) in double-digit triumphs.

*Florida is 56-for-84 (.667) on the basepaths, as 14 different players have at least one stolen base and Pigott (15-for-19) holds the team lead. Opponents are 28-for-42 (.667) against UF. The Gators were 11-for-12 (.917) in Hoover for the SEC Tourney and were 1-for-3 (.333) last weekend.

*UF enters the NCAA Super Regional with 129 doubles on the season after totaling 110 in 64 games last year. Five different players - Zunino (21), Tucker (20), Pigott (19), Fontana (12), Adams (11) and Johnson (10) - have reached double-digits. The 129 two-baggers is tied for fifth on the school’s career chart, with the 159 in 1998 the high-water mark.

*Gator pinch hitters are 24-for-76 (.316) this season, as redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit is 4-for-10 (.400) and junior Jeff Moyer is 6-for-19 (.316).

*Ramjit and Smith enter the Super Regional boasting seven-game hitting streaks. Ramjit has a .429 (9-for-21) clip with five runs and three RBI, while Smith is 15-for-29 (.517) with seven runs, five RBI and three doubles.

*Sophomore Cody Dent, who entered the SEC Tourney 4-for-36 (.111) in 32 games, delivered a .308 (4-for-13) effort in Hoover and did not commit any errors while starting all five games on the hot corner. He drew four walks and drove in a pair of runs in the title game against Vanderbilt. In the NCAA Gainesville Regional, Dent was 3-for-10 (.300) and led the club with four walks, none bigger than the ninth-inning free pass last Saturday against Miami (Fla.).

*According to the most recent SEC statistics, Florida is second in hitting (.311) and fielding (.974) and third in ERA (2.97).

*The Gator offense ranks in top-three in batting average (.311, second), slugging percentage (.459, first), runs scored (413, second), hits (683, first), RBI (382, first), doubles (129, first), home runs (58, first), total bases (1,008, first) and sacrifice bunts (59, tied for third).

 

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