Senior Nick Vickerson delivered a game-winning two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to lift Mississippi State (38-24) to a dramatic 4-3 victory over Florida (49-17) on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at McKethan Stadium. With the Bulldogs’ triumph, the teams will play a decisive game three tomorrow at 1 p.m. (ESPN) to determine which squad will advance to the 65th NCAA College World Series that begins next Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
With MSU trailing by a run and down to its final three outs, redshirt senior Jarrod Parks led off with a single through the left side off Gator junior reliever Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.). Sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (3-2) was summoned from the bullpen and Vickerson (2-for-4, two runs) smacked the lefty’s first pitch into the left-field bleachers to help the Bulldogs even the best-of-three series.
“I first want to compliment Mississippi State,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “They did what they needed to do in the last three innings. I felt like we played a really good game; we didn’t give them anything. They just took advantage of their opportunities and you’ve got to tip your cap. It’s just one of those things we knew wasn’t going to be easy. It’s never an easy road this time of the year and we’ve got plenty of pitching. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Junior Caleb Reed (1-1) threw 5.1 innings out of the bullpen, in which he allowed four hits and a run, to earn the decision. The right-hander came into the contest with Florida holding a 2-0 lead in fourth and had kept the Gators off the scoreboard until junior Tyler Thompson’s (Tequesta, Fla.) two-out RBI triple in the eighth scored sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) for a 3-2 UF lead. Freshman starter Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) held Mississippi State scoreless until the seventh, when the Bulldogs plated two runs on four hits.
The Gators broke the ice in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.). Sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) had opened the frame with an infield single, raising his hitting streak to a career-high three games, and senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Fla.) (3-for-5) followed with a double into right center. Moments later, Fontana lofted his team-leading ninth sac fly into left field to bring in Dent with the opening run. Junior Nick Routt worked out of further trouble by having Zunino line out to shortstop and junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) ground out.
In MSU’s third at bat, senior Jonathan Ogden beat out an infield hit and moved to second on a bunt by senior Wes Thigpen. A grounder by Bradford advanced Ogden to third base but Whitson had senior Ryan Collins fly out to end the inning.
Senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) (2-for-4) started the fourth with a homer over the wall in right center to provide the Gators with a 2-0 advantage. It was his sixth round-tripper of the campaign, fourth career NCAA Tournament big fly and his first dinger since May 13 at Vanderbilt. Junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) had consecutive one-out singles before Dent was retired on a pop-up in foul territory for the second out. Reed replaced Routt (3.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R) and Smith’s infield single struck Pigott as he was running to third to complete the stanza.
The Bulldogs rallied to tie the game with two runs on four hits in the seventh. After Ogden’s single in the third, Whitson had retired 13-consecutive Mississippi State hitters before Vickerson had a one-out infield single to jump-start the offense. Senior Jaron Shepherd stroked a single through the right side for runners on the corners and senior Cody Freeman narrowed the gap to 2-1 with an RBI single into right field. Junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) took over for Whitson (6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 6 K) and permitted a game-tying single up the middle by redshirt junior Brent Brownlee. The right-hander had Ogden hit into an inning-ending 5-3 double play to preserve the stalemate.
UF re-claimed the lead in the eighth on a two-out triple by Thompson to deep center field. Zunino began the inning with his team-leading 22nd double to straightaway center field and Reed had Tucker pop up behind the plate. A wild pitch enabled Zunino take third base and Reed answered with a strikeout of Adams. Thompson put the Gators back on top with his first triple of the campaign that barely eluded a leaping effort by Bradford. Ogden saved another potential Florida run with a diving stab of a flare by Pigott.
Toledo had Thigpen pop up to Ramjit to start the bottom of the inning and Maronde came in and had Bradford fly out and Collins ground out to send the game to the ninth. Florida held an 11-7 advantage in hits today and did not commit any errors.
For all of the latest information on Florida baseball, log on to http://www.gatorzone.com/baseball/ or, for up-to-the-minute updates, follow the team’s Twitter account @GatorZoneBB at www.twitter.com/GatorZoneBB.
· UF is now 33-7 (.825) at home this season. Florida is now 43-2 when leading after eight innings (April 5, 2011 vs. UCF).
· Over the first three innings of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Florida has outscored its opponents, 35-1, and added one more to that total Saturday with a run in the third inning. Florida is averaging 7.0 runs in the first three innings of the NCAA Tournament after averaging 2.2 runs in the first three frames in its first 61 games of the season.
· Since the start of postseason play (SEC Tournament), the Gators have only committed four errors in 10 games while their opponents have made 19 during the same span.
· Mississippi State entered the Super Regional stealing 88 bases in 118 attempts (74.6 percent) – their most stolen bases in a season since 1990. In the first two games of the Super Regional series, the Gators have controlled the running game as the Bulldogs are 0-for-1.
· Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American right-hander Karsten Whitson pitched a shutout into the seventh and lasted 6.1 innings – his second-longest start this season -- allowing two earned runs on four hits. Thus far in the NCAA Tournament, Whitson has pitched 9.2 innings, allowing just six hits and two earned runs (1.96 ERA) while fanning nine. In Game 2 vs. MSU, he limited the Bulldogs to 1-for-5 (.200) with RISP, striking out two in those situations. He also produced four 1-2-3 innings – including three in a row from the fourth through the sixth inning – and retired 13 in a row at one point after conceding a bunt single in the third.
· Florida’s right-handed batters were 6-for-10 (.600) with a home run and a double against MSU lefty Nick Routt in his 3.2 innings.
· During the 2011 NCAA Tournament, SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino is hitting .450 (9-for-20) with eight runs, six RBI, three doubles and two home runs. Against Mississippi State this season (five games), the Johnny Bench Award finalist is .462 (12-for-26) with 10 runs, nine RBI, three doubles and two home runs. He delivered a lead-off double in the top of the eighth after MSU had tied the game in the previous frame – his team-leading 22nd of the season – and later scored the go-ahead run.
· Over his last five games, junior left fielder Tyler Thompson is 9-for-22 (.409) with seven RBI, four runs, three doubles and a triple. His two-out eighth inning triple put the Gators in front 3-2 and was his second career triple in NCAA Tournament play – the only current Gator with more than one – and the fifth three-bagger of his career.
· Senior center fielder Bryson Smith extended his career-high hitting streak to nine games. During the streak, Smith is batting .538 (21-for-39) with nine runs, six RBI and five doubles.
· Senior second baseman Josh Adams matched Mario Linares (247, 1988-91) for the school record for games played. In six games against MSU this season, Adams is 11-for-27 (.407) with four runs and four RBI. His opposite-field homer in the fourth inning staked Florida to a 2-0 lead and was the fourth NCAA Tournament homer of his career.
· Since the start of the SEC Tournament May 25th vs. Mississippi State (nine games), Cody Dent is 9-for-28 (.321) with 10 walks, five runs and four RBI. He now has a career-high three game hit streak.
· Senior second baseman Nick Vickerson went 2-for-4, improving to 6-for-15 (.400) with five RBI, three doubles and a walk-off home run during the 2011 NCAA Tournament. In five games against Florida this season, the senior is 7-for-18 (.389) with five RBI, a double, triple and two long balls.
· MSU reliever Caleb Reed picked up his first win of the campaign after tossing 5.1 scoreless innings, permitting one earned run on three hits while tallying two strikeouts. In three appearances vs. Florida this season, has thrown 9.1 innings, allowing only one earned run (0.99 ERA) and six hits while striking out seven.
· Six of MSU’s seven hits came in the seventh inning or later.
· The Bulldogs snapped Florida’s nine-game home winning streak in NCAA Tournament play and earned their first win in Gainesville since Kevin O’Sullivan has been at the helm at Florida.