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Saturday May 19, 2012Auburn Holds Off No. 3 UF Baseball, 5-4, To Salvage Series Finale

Auburn, Ala.

Auburn senior right fielder Creede Simpson threw out Florida senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) at the plate to compete a game-ending double play as the Tigers (30-26/13-17 SEC) notched a 5-4 victory on Saturday afternoon at Plainsman Park.


AU’s win prevented the third-ranked Gators (40-16/18-12 SEC) from earning a share of the Southeastern Conference title with LSU (42-14/19-11 SEC), which edged South Carolina (39-15/18-11 SEC) this afternoon in Columbia, 3-2, in 10 innings. The seeding and bracket for the 2012 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., that starts on Tuesday will be announced later this evening after today’s action has been completed.


With the Gators down to their final three outs, Tucker (2-for-5) delivered a base-hit into right field off of senior Justin Bryant with one down. Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) followed with a double that grazed the wall in left field, his school-record 24th of the campaign. With a pair of runners in scoring position, junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) lofted what Florida hoped would be a game-tying sacrifice fly into right field. However, Simpson snared the ball for the second out and fired a bullet to the plate, where senior Caleb Bowen applied the tag to a sliding Tucker to end the contest. Bryant collected his sixth save and nailed down the win for senior Derek Varnadore (4-7).


Auburn had rallied for three runs on four hits to seize a 5-4 lead in the seventh, moving in front on a two-run, two-out infield single by Bryant. Sophomore Zach Alvord (2-for-4) punched a leadoff single up the middle, junior Mitchell Self singled through the left side and freshman Tanner Cimo sliced a single into left field to load the bases with none out for the hosts. A fielder’s choice by Simpson brought home Alvord for a 4-3 score and junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (3-2) fanned sophomore Ryan Tella for the second out. Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) replaced Rodriguez (1.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 K) and Simpson moved into scoring position with his 24th theft. Bryant singled on a 3-2 pitch just beyond second base, bringing home both Self and Simpson. The Tigers had trailed by scores of 3-0 in the second and 4-2 entering the seventh.


Sophomore Jay Gonzalez had opened the home part of the first with a single up the middle off of sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) and moved into scoring position with his team-leading 28th stolen base. Whitson had Simpson pop up a bunt attempt and struck out Tella. Bryant’s bid for a base-hit into left field was dashed when junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) made a tremendous diving stop and a perfect throw to first base that retired the side.


The Gators erupted for three runs on five hits in the second inning against Varnadore to take a 3-0 lead. Johnson started the frame with a single into left center and senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-3) followed with a double down the right-field line. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) cleared the bases with his team-leading third triple into right field. Freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) drew a walk for runners on the corners and Turgeon came across with the third run when junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) (2-for-4) and Fontana had back-to-back two-out singles before Varnadore escaped further trouble by having Tucker go down on strikes.


The Tigers answered in the bottom of the inning with a two-out RBI double by Alvord to narrow the gap to 3-1. Junior Patrick Savage had led off with a double to straightaway center field and advanced to third on a grounder by Bowen. Whitson had sophomore Bobby Andrews pop up to Fontana and Alvord put Auburn on the board with a two-bagger into the right-field corner.


Auburn pulled to within 3-2 in the third on a two-out error by Fontana, his first in SEC play and first since March 27. Cimo started things off with a walk and Tella earned a one-out free pass before Whitson had Bryant fly out to right field. A grounder by Savage was misplayed, allowing Cimo to score. Whitson had Bowen line out to keep the Gators in front.


Tucker came through with a two-out RBI single in the fourth to give Florida a 4-2 advantage. Shafer reached on a leadoff error by Self at shortstop and went to third on a one-out single by Tobias on a perfectly executed hit-and-run. A fielder’s choice by Fontana erased Shafer at the plate but then Tucker roped 1-2 offering from Varnadore into right field to plate Tobias.


After Whitson worked five innings, allowing three hits and two runs (one earned), with two walks and two strikeouts, senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) took the mound in the sixth. The right-hander retired the first two batters before permitting a single into right field to Bowen. Rodriguez was summoned from the bullpen and struck out Andrews to preserve the two-run margin for the time being.


After Auburn seized the 5-4 lead, Pigott drew a leadoff walk from Bryant, who had taken over for Varnadore (7.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER) prior to the eighth. Turgeon pushed Pigott to second with a grounder and Self misplayed Ramjit’s two-out grounder for an error, leaving runners on the corners. Bryant had Tobias ground out to complete the inning.


Florida held a 12-9 advantage in hits but Auburn turned four double plays this afternoon. The trio of Fontana, Pigott and Tucker had two hits apiece to lead the Gators, while Alvord was 2-for-4 to lead the Tigers.

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