Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) clubbed a three-run homer in the seventh inning to turn a 6-4 deficit into an eventual 8-6 victory for Florida (50-17) over Mississippi State (38-25) in game three of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional on Sunday afternoon.
The victory secured the Gators’ seventh trip to the NCAA College World Series (1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011) and marked the first time that the program had made consecutive trips to Omaha. UF will face the winner’s of tonight’s deciding third game between host Texas (48-17) and Arizona State (43-17) at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha either next Saturday or Sunday in the opening round of the CWS.
“I think it was one of the best games that I have been involved with,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.” Both teams were competing, and both teams were throwing as hard as they could. Both teams made plays and came up with key hits in certain situations. It’s just one of those things where we just got a couple more runs.”
“It was just an emotional game,” O’Sullivan continued. “It was an emotional game for the players and it was an emotional game for me. And like I said, I probably learned more about coaching in the last 24 hours than I probably have in the last four years.”
The Gators used a season-high five homers, their most in a game since six against Florida Atlantic on June 6, 2010, to account for their eight runs this afternoon. Florida jumped out to a 4-0 lead on a solo homer by sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-4) in the first inning and back-to-back homers by junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (3-for-3, three RBI, two homers) and redshirt sophomore Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) in the second inning. The Bulldogs narrowed the gap to 4-3 in the fourth on a three-run blast by Saturday’s hero, senior Nick Vickerson (2-for-5, four RBI), and used three two-out runs in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead.
Freshman Daryl Norris replaced freshman Taylor Stark at the outset of UF’s seventh at bat and walked both senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) and sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) to start the frame. Junior Caleb Reed (1-2) was summoned from the bullpen and Zunino laid down a sacrifice bunt to push his teammates into scoring position. Tucker (2-for-3) then cranked a three-run homer to straightaway center field to give Florida a 7-6 lead. It was the 40th homer of his career, 14th of the campaign and was the eighth of his career in NCAA Tourney action to set a school record. Now with 202 RBI, Tucker also joined the 200-RBI club at Florida, along with Brad Wilkerson (214, 1996-98) and Matt LaPorta (206, 2004-07).
Pigott provided the Gators with a valuable insurance run in the eighth with a leadoff homer to left center off sophomore Chris Stratton, marking the first time he had a pair of dingers in the same contest. Redshirt junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) (6-3) retired the first two Bulldogs in the ninth before having Vickerson fly out to left field to trigger a wild celebration on the field. Over 2.1 innings, Toledo allowed two hits and two runs to pick up the victory.
After junior Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) set down the Bulldogs in order to start the game, Zunino opened the scoring with a two-out solo homer over the wall in left center off sophomore Luis Pollorena. It was his team-leading 18th homer, his third in the NCAA Tournament and his third against Mississippi State this season.
The Gators used back-to-back homers by Pigott and Ramjit to build a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) extended his hitting streak to seven games with a one-out single and Pigott delivered a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers for a three-run margin. His fourth homer of the season was his second of the Super Regional. Ramjit followed with a solo blast of his own, his first homer of the campaign, marking the third time this season that the Gators had gone yard twice in a row. Zunind senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) went back-to-back in the second inning at USF on March 9 and Tucker and Zunino accomplished the feat in the second inning against Manhattan in the NCAA Tourney opener on June 3.
Fontana drew a leadoff walk in the third, ending the day for Pollorena (2.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 HR). Junior Devin Jones had Zunino fly out to left field but an errant relay throw by senior shortstop Jonathan Ogden allowed Fontana to reach second. Tucker earned a free pass for two runners aboard and Jones rebounded by striking out Adams and having Thompson fly out to strand the runners.
Vickerson pulled the Bulldogs within 4-3 with a three-run blast to left center in the fourth inning. Senior Cody Freeman (2-for-5, two runs) and redshirt senior Jarrod Parks (1-for-4, two runs) had consecutive singles off Panteliodis to begin the inning and Vickerson connected on his team-leading ninth homer, second of the series.
A one-out single by freshman C.T. Bradford in the fifth prompted a pitching change, as junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) took over for Panteliodis (4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R). The right-hander uncorked a wild pitch that moved Bradford into scoring position and countered with a strikeout of Freeman before having Parks ground out to close the frame.
MSU gunned down Zunino attempting to score from first base on a double by Tucker to end the fifth, keeping the score at 4-3 in favor of the Gators. Jones retired the first two batters of the inning before Zunino collected his second hit of the contest with a base-hit into right field. Tucker roped a 3-2 pitch off the right-field fence for his 21st double, however, a perfect relay from senior outfielder Jaron Shepherd to second baseman Vickerson to senior catcher Wes Thigpen nailed Zunino at the dish.
Shepherd and redshirt junior Brent Brownlee (3-for-4, two RBI) had back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth, bringing junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) to the mound for Larson (1.0 IP, 2 H). The southpaw had senior Ryan Collins fly out to center field and had Ogden fly out to left to preserve the one-run advantage.
Stark came in for Jones (3.0 IP, 3 H) in the bottom of the inning and set down the first two hitters before walking Pigott. After a wild pitch advanced Pigott to second base, Ramjit walked for a couple of Gators aboard with two down. Stark had sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) fly out to center to hold the Bulldogs’ deficit at one run.
The Bulldogs plated three two-out runs in the seventh to seize a 6-4 lead, highlighted by a game-tying single by Vickerson and a two-run, go-ahead single by Brownlee. Maronde registered the first two outs in the frame before surrendering a double to Freeman to the gap in left center. Toledo replaced Maronde (1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R) and issued a four-pitch walk to Parks for two on base. Vickerson came through with a game-tying single into right field, driving in Freeman. Vickerson stole second base for a pair of Bulldogs in scoring position and Shepherd was walked intentionally to load the bases. Brownlee moved Mississippi State in front for the first time all day with a two-run single into left field for a 6-4 lead. Toledo had Collins pop up to complete the inning.
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· Sunday’s game marks the first time in the history of both programs that an if-necessary game has been played in the Super Regionals.
· With the win, the Gators make back-to-back trips to Omaha for the first time in program history.
· The Gators move to 50-17 on the season, marking just the third time in Florida history that the Gators have reached the 50-win plateau (1991 and 1996).
· The Gators are now 1-5 in if-necessary NCAA games, with all 5 appearances coming in the NCAA Regionals until today.
· Mike Zunino’s HR in the first inning was his 18th of the season. He has three in the NCAA Tournament this year. Against Mississippi State in 2011, Zunino was 16-for-30 with 14 hits, 10 runs, 10 RBI, 3 doubles and 3 home runs. He now has a team-leading 28 multi-hit games this season.
· Josh Adams made his 248th career appearance in a Gator uniform, a program record.
· With his start, Alex Panteliodis now holds the record for the most NCAA postseason starts in his career with six. He finished the afternoon with 4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 19 BF and 1 HR.
· In the first three innings of Panteliodis’ last three starts, the Gators have scored 17 runs.
· Tyler Thompson’s single in the bottom of the second extended his hitting streak to seven games.
· Daniel Pigott’s solo homer in the bottom of the eighth was his fifth of the year. With that round-tripper, the Gators have nine home runs in the Super Regional.
· Vickash Ramjit hit his first-career home run in the bottom of the second. His homer marked the third time this season the Gators have hit back-to-back home runs. (Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino had back-to-back home runs vs. Manhattan on June 3, Zunino and Adams hit back-to-back homers at USF on March 9).
· Preston Tucker had his first hit of the series in the bottom of the fifth with a liner to right field but Shepherd (RF) and Vickerson (2B) combined to throw out Zunino at home.
· Preston Tucker’s three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh was his 14th home run of the year and the 40th of his career. Tucker (202 career RBI) is now a member of the 200-RBI club, which includes Brad Wilkerson (214) and Matt LaPorta (206).
· Pigott had his first multi-HR game of his career against the Bulldogs on Sunday, with a jack to left-center field in the bottom of the eighth to put the Gators ahead, 8-6.
· The Gators’ five home runs mark a new season high for 2011, as the Orange and Blue hit four dingers against Winthrop on March 22nd. All eight of the Gators’ runs against the Bulldogs on Sunday were courtesy of homers.
· Bryson Smith’s double to left-center in the bottom of the eighth continued his career-high 10-game hitting streak. It was also his 13th double of the year.
· Mississippi State moves to 38-25 with the loss. The Bulldogs are now 7-3 in if-necessary NCAA games, with all 9 appearances coming in the NCAA Regionals until today.
· Nick Vickerson’s 3-run home run was his second of the series and his ninth of the year. The round-tripper in the bottom of the third was also his fourth multi-run homer of the year. Against the Gators this year, Vickerson was 8-for-20 with 8 RBI, 3 HR and 5 extra-base hits. The dinger was Vickerson’s second of his career against Panteliodis, as the junior hit one out of the park against Panteliodis at McKethan on March 19th, 2010.
· With Nick Freeman’s double in the top of the seventh, he raised his hitting percentage to .375 against the Gators in the series with a run, an RBI and a double.
· Vickerson earned his fourth RBI of the game with a line drive to right field to score Freeman and tie the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh. Vickerson then stole his team-leading 26th base, going 26-for-29 on stolen base attempts.
· Brownlee’s two-RBI single in the top of the seventh between third and short gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the afternoon and their first-ever lead in the series before the ninth inning.
· Mississippi State used eight pitchers against the Gators on Sunday, tying for the most they’ve used all season. They used eight against Georgia in a 1-4 loss on April 3rd.