SEC Tournament Final: Florida 7, MSU 5

HOOVER | A recap of MSU’s loss in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

The buzz: Oof. That might be the best word to describe this one. MSU was cruising along with a 5-2 lead against the No. 3-seeded – and No. 3 nationally ranked – Gators when disaster struck. A high – very high – fly ball off the bat of Brian Johnson cleared the right-field fence for a grand slam with no outs in the seventh to give UF (42-15) a 6-5 lead. It wasted a stellar outing by freshman pitcher Evan Mitchell and put the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (34-22) into an elimination game on Thursday against Arkansas.

Big inning: The seventh, obviously. It began ominously when freshman reliever Taylor Stark hit and walked the first two batters. He left, Luis Pollorena entered, and a single by SEC player of the year Mike Zunino loaded the bags for Johnson, who took a 1-2 fastball and hit what honestly looked like a pop-up. Johnson said in the postgame that he thought it was going foul, and I was surprised how far it traveled. The wind blowing hard to left field might well have kept it fair.

Key stats: MSU pitchers issued seven walks and hit one batter. … State was 1 of 10 with runners in scoring position. … UF stranded nine runners, including six through the first four innings.

MSU at the plate: State had seven hits, two each by C.T. Bradford and Nick Vickerson. He drove in the first three runs of the game for MSU, with a two-run triple in the third inning and a leadoff homer in the sixth, the latter to give his team a 3-2 lead. The Bulldogs scored twice more in the seventh thanks to a wild pitch and Jaron Shepherd‘s RBI groundout.

Florida at the plate: The Gators had nine hits, and five of those came over their last three innings. Preston Tucker had two hits and two RBIs, while Johnson had that big grand slam for a four-RBI day.

MSU on the mound: Mitchell tossed five-plus innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on five hits. He struck out five and walked four, throwing 108 pitches. Stark then came in and was charged with two runs in an inning’s work; then it was Pollorena (6-5), who took the loss and was charged with three runs in 1 2/3 innings. Devin Jones retired the lone batter he faced to end the eighth.

Florida on the mound: Making his first SEC start of the season, Tommy Toledo gave up two runs (both earned) on two hits in 2 2/3 innings, leaving after Vickerson’s triple. Reliever Nick Maronde, the first of four relievers, threw three strong innings, and Steven Rodriguez (3-1) worked 1 2/3 shutout innings for the win. UF’s pitchers recorded 12 strikeouts against two walks.

Bottom line: Coach John Cohen said the loss is mostly due to his relievers being unable to throw strikes. If the wind doesn’t keep Johnson’s ball fair, it’s very likely a different outcome. Now MSU must turn it around and try to stay alive.

Quotable: “You just can’t hand a team like Florida those kind of opportunities, and we certainly did.” – Cohen, on the walks

Up next: MSU will face No. 2 seed Arkansas (36-19) at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, loser go home. The Razorbacks lost to No. 7 Alabama earlier today, 7-4.