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Saturday May 26, 2012Ninth-Inning Rally Lifts Vanderbilt Over No. 2 UF Baseball & Into SEC Tourney Title Game, 8-6

Hoover, Ala.

Vanderbilt (33-25) rallied from a one-run deficit with five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and withstood a furious rally by No. 2 Florida (42-18) in the bottom of the inning to take an 8-6 victory in semifinal action at the 2012 SEC Tournament at Regions Park on Saturday afternoon. The Commodores will square off against No. 25 Mississippi State (38-22) in tomorrow’s championship game at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

 

With the Gators holding a 4-3 advantage entering the ninth, junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (3-3) was called upon to close the game. Freshman pinch hitter Connor Castellano led off with a double to right field and was sacrificed to third by junior pinch hitter Andrew Harris. Maddox hit sophomore Tony Kemp (1-for-2, two runs) for runners on first and third and junior Mike Yastrzemski’s (2-for-4) squeeze bunt scored Castellano with the tying run and pushed Kemp to second base. Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) threw out Yastrzemski trying to steal for the second out, with Kemp taking third on the play. Junior Anthony Gomez (2-for-5, two RBI) put the Commodores on top with an RBI single into left field that plated Kemp and then stole second base. Sophomore Conrad Gregor was walked intentionally and Vanderbilt executed a double steal for two runners in scoring position before Maddox issued another intentional walk to sophomore Spencer Navin that loaded the bases. The Commodores then pulled off a triple steal, with Gomez stealing home, Gregor taking third and Navin advancing to second. Freshman Will Cooper stroked a two-run single into right field that increased his club’s lead to 8-4 but was thrown out attempting to reach third base to end the frame.

 

With UF down to its final three outs, junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-4) laced a one-out single into right field but was erased at second base on a fielder’s choice by senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (1-for-5, three runs). Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) (2-for-5, two runs) followed with a double down the left-field line to move Tucker to third base and junior Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (4-for-5) collected his fourth hit and fourth RBI of the day with a single up the middle off of junior Will Clinard (7-2) to bring the Gators within 8-5. Senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) singled through the left side to score Zunino with the sixth run and pushed redshirt freshman pinch runner Connor Mitchell (Tampa, Fla.) into scoring position. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) (2-for-3) made it four-straight hits for the Orange and Blue with a base-hit into left field that loaded the bases with two down and forced a call to the bullpen. Junior Drew VerHagen came in for Clinard (1.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R) and threw one pitch that retired freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) on a fly ball to right field to complete the contest and register his second save.  

 

Vanderbilt had grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning against sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) courtesy of one hit and a pair of errors. Kemp began the game with a double into left center field and wound up scoring when Yastrzemski’s sacrifice bunt was thrown away by Whitson and junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) misfired on a relay throw to the plate. With Yastrzemski on second, a wild pitch moved him to third and Gomez brought him home with an RBI grounder.

 

The Gators answered with a two-out RBI double by Johnson in the home part of the inning to cut the deficit to 2-1. Tucker had roped a one-out single into right field off of sophomore starter Kevin Ziomek and came around to score on a hit-and-run when Johnson’s 11th two-bagger of the season landed in left center. Ziomek had Pigott fly out to left field to complete the inning.

 

Junior Connor Harrell (2-for-5) provided Vanderbilt with a 3-1 advantage in the second inning with a double into right center that scored senior Riley Reynolds, who had led off with a pinch-hit single up the middle. Junior Jack Lupo laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Harrell to third and Whitson responded by having freshman Vince Conde ground out but then walked Kemp. With runners on the corners and two down, Kemp moved into scoring position with his 17th stolen base before Whitson had Yastrzemski ground out.

 

Although the Commodores loaded the bases with one down in the third, senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) pitched out of the jam. Gregor and Navin had consecutive one-out singles and a walk to Reynolds loaded the bases, prompting a pitching change. Larson replaced Whitson (2.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB), tying former Gator Darren O’Day (2003-06) for second on the school’s all-time list with his 117th appearance. The righty had Harrell hit into an inning-ending 5-3 double play to keep the Gators down by a pair of runs.

 

Johnson tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the stanza with a two-run double into the gap in right center. Fontana drew a four-pitch walk to start the frame but was erased on a strange fielder’s choice, as Tucker’s fly ball was lost in the sun but was picked up quickly enough to throw Fontana out at second base. Zunino doubled to left field, advancing Tucker to third, and Johnson connected on his season-best second double of the contest to even the contest. Ziomek (2.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R) retired Pigott on a line drive to left field and was replaced by freshman Brian Miller, who surrendered a base-hit into left field by Turgeon for runners on the corners. The reliever struck out Shafer to preserve the stalemate.

 

After Larson set down the Commodores in order for the first time in the game in the top of the fourth, Florida seized a 4-3 lead on an RBI single by Fontana. Ramjit had started things off with a bunt single up the third-base line and went to second on a throwing error on the play by Miller. Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) sacrificed Ramjit to third with a bunt and Fontana smacked a single with the infield drawn in to plate Ramjit. After Tucker flew out to the warning track in right field, Fontana was caught stealing for the first time this season after 11-consecutive thefts.

 

Gomez had a one-out single up the middle in the fifth but was gunned down by Zunino trying to steal second. Gregor earned a free pass with two down and Larson had Navin go down swinging on strikes.

 

Larson fanned Conde to begin the seventh and junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) came in from the bullpen. Over four strong innings, Larson permitted just one hit and totaled three strikeouts. Rodriguez plunked Kemp and a base-hit by Yastrzemski that hit the umpire left two runners aboard with one down. A grounder by Gomez pushed both runners into scoring position and Rodriguez struck out Gregor to keep the Gators ahead by a run.

 

Freshman Jared Miller replaced Brian Miller (3.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R) prior to Florida’s seventh at bat and induced three-straight fly-outs. Rodriguez tossed a 1-2-3 eighth and then Pigott reached on a one-out throwing error by third baseman Conde and stole second. A walk to Turgeon gave the Gators a pair of runners aboard and Clinard was summoned to take over for Miller (1.1 IP). After a long battle, Shafer deposited a base-hit into shallow center field to fill the bags with one down. Clinard had Ramjit hit into an inning-ending 4-3 double play to hold the margin at 4-3.

 

Florida wound up with a 15-12 advantage in hits and each team committed two errors. The Gators will learn tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET if they are one of the 16 NCAA Regional host sites and the 64-team NCAA Tournament will be revealed on Monday at 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

 

 

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