HOOVER, Ala. – Top-seeded Florida (42-14) downed fourth-seeded Vanderbilt (41-17), 5-2, in the fourth elimination game of the 2010 SEC Tournament on Friday night at Regions Park. With the victory, the Gators advanced to the tournament semifinals for the first time since 2005 and equaled last season’s win total. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad will need to defeat seventh-seeded Alabama (36-21) twice tomorrow in order to reach Sunday’s championship game.
Eighth-seeded LSU (38-20) faces sixth-seeded Ole Miss (38-21) in Saturday’s opener at 10:30 a.m. ET and needs one win to reach the title game for the third-consecutive year. Florida will face the Crimson Tide 30 minutes following the conclusion of game one, which will be shown on Sun Sports and streamed live on www.GatorZone.com via FoxSportsFlorida.com. If either the Tigers or Crimson Tide lose, “if necessary” games between the same two teams consisting of seven innings will be played starting at 6 p.m. ET and carried in Gainesville on Cox Communications Channel 259 and on www.GatorZone.com via ESPN3.com.
Making his postseason debut, freshman right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (7-3) kept the Commodores off the scoreboard until the sixth inning, giving up five hits and a run, to register his fifth-consecutive triumph. Sophomore Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) worked out of trouble in the sixth and went 1.2 innings before freshman Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) collected his first save with two scoreless frames in which he permitted one hit. The Gator defense matched a season high with four double plays to end the third, fourth, sixth and eighth innings and sophomore Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-5) belted a two-run homer in the fifth stanza that gave the Orange and Blue a 5-0 advantage.
Sophomore Jack Armstrong (7-3) had retired five-straight Gators before issuing a leadoff walk in the third to freshman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.). Sophomore Ben McMahan (Windermere, Fla.) legged out an infield hit and freshman Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) was hit by a pitch to load the bases with none out. Armstrong induced a 4-6-3 double play by freshman Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) that brought across Johnson with the opening run but had junior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) line out to shortstop to keep the deficit at one run.
The Commodores had a pair of runners aboard against Randall with one down in the bottom of the inning, only to have the right-hander work out of the jam by having junior Bryan Johns (2-for-3) hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. Freshman Anthony Gomez (2-for-4) had led off with a base-hit into right field and sacrificed into scoring position on a bunt by freshman Mike Yastrzemski. Randall plunked senior Brian Harris but then had Johnson ground out to Dent, who triggered a double play close the frame.
Florida added two runs on two hits and an error in the fourth to take a 3-0 lead. Tucker led off with an infield hit but was erased on a fielder’s choice by freshman Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.). Senior Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) followed with a single into left and senior Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) earned a free pass to load the bases. Johnson hit a ball up the first-base line that scored Maddox and a throwing error on the play by Armstrong also enabled den Dekker to come across with the third run. Armstrong fanned both McMahan and Dent to prevent further damage.
Vanderbilt threatened again in the home part of the inning, as sophomores Jason Esposito and Aaron Westlake (2-for-4) started things off with back-to-back singles. A fielder’s choice by sophomore Joe Loftus forced Westlake at second base before Randall had senior Andrew Giobbi hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Tucker boosted Floridaoff Armstrong that cleared the wall in right field. Adams had drawn a one-out walk and Tucker launched his 10th homer, first since May 8 at Alabama, for a five-run cushion. After Armstrong hit Maddox, he was replaced by junior Richie Goodenow. Over 4.1 innings, Armstrong allowed four hits and five runs, with five strikeouts and four walks.
The Commodores countered with a run in the sixth to close the gap to 5-1. Harris and Johns started the inning with back-to-back walks and Randall had Esposito fly out to right field. Westlake cranked an RBI double into left field to drive in Harris and a walk to Loftus loaded the bases and prompted a pitching change. Larson came in for Randall (5.1, 5 H, 1 R) and had Giobbi hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Harris delivered a two-out RBI double in the seventh that scored Yastrzemski all the way from first base to pull the Commodores within 5-2. Gomez had singled with one down but was erased at second base on Yastrzemski’s fielder’s choice. Harris ripped a two-bagger down the left-field line to bring home Yastrzemski and Johns reached on an infield hit for runners on the corners. Larson had a grounder by Esposito force Johnson at second base to end the inning.
Rodriguez took over for Larson (1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R) prior to the eighth and had Westlake fly out to right field. Loftus reached on a fielding error by Dent and Giobbi singled through the right side of the infield for two runners aboard. However, Rodriguez had junior Curt Casali ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, the Gators’ fourth of the game, to preserve the 5-2 margin. The southpaw retired the side in order in the ninth to close the contest. Vanderbilt held a 9-7 advantage in hits and each club made one error.