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Friday June 24, 2011Florida Edges Vanderbilt, 6-4, To Advance To CWS Championship Series

Omaha, Neb.

Florida (53-17) snapped a 4-4 tie with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat Vanderbilt (54-12), 6-4, on Friday afternoon in front of 20,087 fans at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. With their fifth victory over the Commodores this season in six meetings, the Gators advance to the best-of-three CWS Championship Series that begins on Monday night and will face either defending national champion South Carolina (52-14) or Virginia (56-11). It will be the second time that UF has played for the national title in baseball, as it fell to Texas in the final round at the 2005 event.

 

“First, I want to congratulate Tim (Corbin) and his coaches and his team for an outstanding year,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.  “They have a great club. Once I knew the brackets were lined up, that we had the potential to play each other, you know, players are players, but I, certainly from a personal standpoint, wasn't looking forward to it.”

 

“They've got a great club, like I said. I don't know what it is - we've just been able to score one more run or two more runs than Vanderbilt this year. I agree with Tim, with his statement the other day - I do think both teams were evenly matched.”

 

After the Commodores had tied the game, 4-4, in the top of the eighth, junior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-4, two runs) led off with a single into right center and sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) (2-for-2, two runs, two walks) beat out a bunt single for a pair of Gators aboard. Sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-3) laid down a bunt that junior Sonny Gray (12-4) tried to bare-hand, instead resulting in a hit that loaded the bases with none out and caused a pitching change. Sophomore Will Clinard came in for Gray (7.0 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 8 K, 5 BB) and had senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) pop up on the infield for the first out. Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (1-for-5, two RBI) greeted sophomore reliever Corey Williams with a go-ahead RBI single to left field that brought home Pigott for a 5-4 advantage. Senior Mark Lamm replaced Williams and struck out sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.), but a wild pitch on the play enabled Dent to score for a two-run lead.

 

Sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.), who had entered the game in the eighth, retired freshman Tony Kemp on a foul pop-up to left field in the ninth and had sophomore Anthony Gomez ground out before junior Aaron Westlake (2-for-5) doubled to right center to keep Vanderbilt’s hopes alive. However, Maddox (3-0) induced a game-ending fly ball to left field by senior Curt Casali to punch the Gators’ ticket into the next round.

 

Westlake had belted a two-out solo homer in the first inning off junior Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) to open the scoring for Vanderbilt. It was his team-leading 18th big fly and landed in the right-field bullpen. 

 

In the bottom of the frame, Smith raised his hitting streak to 13 games with a one-out single to third base and Gray responded with a strikeout of Tucker. Smith was thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning.

 

Panteliodis retired the side in the second frame and matched the Gators’ career record for strikeouts in the NCAA Tournament with an inning-ending K of freshman Conrad Gregor. At the time, the southpaw equaled the mark of 33 held by John Burke (1991-92).

 

Although the Gators put their first two runners aboard in the second, they came away empty-handed. Zunino led off with a bunt single and sophomore Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) followed with a walk before a sacrifice bunt attempt by senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) forced Zunino at third base. A grounder by junior Tyler Thompson (Tequesta, Fla.) advanced both runners into scoring position and Gray worked out of the jam by having Pigott ground out.

 

Vanderbilt sophomore Connor Harrell was hit by a pitch to begin the third and was sacrificed into scoring position by junior Riley Reynolds. Kemp then roped a single into right field for runners on the corners with one down. The Gators caught Kemp in a 1-3-6-3 run-down for the second out and Panteliodis had Gomez ground out to keep the deficit at one run.  

 

An RBI grounder by Tucker in the bottom of the inning evened the game at 1-1. Dent had started things off with his first career triple into right center and Fontana earned a free pass for UF runners on first and third. After Gray struck out Smith, Tucker’s grounder up the first-base line enabled Dent to come home with the tying run. Zunino flew out to center field to complete the inning.  

 

Panteliodis started the fourth with a strikeout of Westlake, his 34th in NCAA action to establish a new school record. Casali blooped a single into center field and Panteliodis caught sophomore Mike Yastrzemski looking on strikes for the second out. The Gator lefty had Esposito ground out to force Casali at second base to end the frame.

 

Fontana picked an opportune time for his first hit of the NCAA College World Series with a two-out, two-run single with the bases full to give Florida a 3-1 lead in the fourth. The Gators had back-to-back one-out singles by Adams (2-for-3) and Thompson and Gray responded with a strikeout of Pigott. Dent worked a walk to fill the bags with two down and Fontana delivered a base-hit up the middle on a 2-0 count to give the Orange and Blue a two-run advantage. The two-run single ended an 0-for-17 drought for Fontana dating back to a homer in the second inning of the Super Regional opener against Mississippi State on June 10. Gray struck out Smith for the second time to strand the runners.

 

Gray registered the first two outs of UF’s fifth before Johnson and Adams notched back-to-back singles. The right-hander made Thompson his eighth strikeout victim to keep the Commodores down by a 3-1 count.

 

Pigott led off the home part of the sixth with a double into left field and Dent earned a free pass before a fielding error by Gray on Fontana’s bunt loaded the bases with none out. Although Smith grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, Pigott scored for a 4-1 Gator lead.

 

Redshirt junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) replaced Panteliodis (6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 K) prior to the seventh and had Casali pop up to Zunino for the first out. After yielding a single up the middle to Yastrzemski (2-for-4), Toledo had Esposito fly out to right field. A base-hit by Gregor just beyond the reach of Fontana resulted in runners on the corners and Harrell brought Vanderbilt within 4-2 courtesy of an RBI single into left field. Junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) took over for Toledo (0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R) and walked senior pinch hitter Bryan Johns to load the bases and then walked Kemp to narrow the Commodores’ deficit to 4-3. Junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) kept the Gators in front for the time being by having Gomez fly out to right field.

 

Adams drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the frame and Gray had Thompson fly out to center field. Junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) fanned Westlake to begin the eighth and surrendered consecutive singles to Casali and Yastrzemski. Maddox was summoned from the bullpen for Rodriguez (0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R), his first appearance since May 29 in the SEC Tournament against Vanderbilt. Esposito legged out an infield single to load the bases and Maddox plunked Gregor to bring across Casali with the tying run. Fontana made a spectacular diving stab on a ball hit by Harrell for the second out and Maddox had a fielder’s choice by Johns force Gregor at third base to keep the contest knotted at 4-4, setting the stage for the Gators’ surge.

 

Florida held a 13-10 advantage in hits, as all nine starters chipped in with at least one, and O’Sullivan’s club did not commit any errors.

 

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