After two lengthy rain delays, the Florida Gators (44-16), outslugged, outpitched and outlasted the Vanderbilt Commodores (42-19) to capture their seventh SEC Tournament Championship with a 7-3 win on Sunday.
The road wasn’t easy for Florida. The Gators lost their first game in Hoover to Arkansas and faced three elimination games in a row to claw their way into the championship. Otherworldly pitching performances from Logan Shore and A.J. Puk got them through the first two games before the bullpen and late-inning heroics from Mike Rivera helped vault Florida into Sunday’s championship.
The Gators wouldn’t leave anything to doubt on Sunday, pouncing on Vanderbilt starter Ryan Johnson in the first inning. Freshman Dalton Guthrie sat out after injuring his wrist in the ninth inning on Saturday. It was the first time this season Guthrie hasn’t led off and played second base. In his place was junior Harrison Bader, who had broken out of a 0-8 slump on Saturday and stayed hot on Championship Sunday. Bader worked a seven-pitch at-bat, sending the seventh offering from Johnson over the wall in left-center to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Pete Alonso singled home Buddy Reed later in the inning to stretch the lead to two.
Vanderbilt scored one in the bottom of the frame before Christin Hicks singled with one out in the top of the second. Bader reached on a fielder’s choice before the sky opened up for the first time, chasing both teams into their respective dugouts.
When play resumed Buddy Reed doubled to left center to bring Bader home and later scored on a Josh Tobias single. Florida’s 4-1 advantage would be more than they needed but they weren’t done yet.
The Gators and Commodores traded runs in the third and Vanderbilt pulled the score to 5-3 with another run in the fourth. Florida added two more runs in the fifth inning as both teams had to be warned by the home plate umpire about the chatter and chippiness that was starting to develop.
Kevin O’Sullivan turned to Danny Young in the fourth inning and the lefty was lights out. Young retired the first nine batters he face before surrendering a double. He responded by getting a flyout to send the game to the eighth inning. Young gave up his second hit to Dansby Swanson in the eighth before Shaun Anderson replaced him, earning a strikeout and then handed the ball to Kirby Snead. Snead worked 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball, earning the last five outs of the game.
“Unfortunately, this doesn’t help us for next weekend. It’s a new tournament and a new season,” O’Sullivan said. “I am pleased with how we played this week. We had a very difficult loss on Wednesday. Arkansas played great. We battled back and played some really good teams.”
2015 SEC Baseball Tournament All-Tournament Team
Starting Pitcher: A.J. Puk, FLORIDA
Starting Pitcher: Matt Kent, Texas A&M
Relief Pitcher: Taylor Lewis, FLORIDA
Catcher/Designated Hitter: JJ Schwarz, FLORIDA
First Base: Peter Alonso, FLORIDA & Zander Wiel, Vanderbilt
Second Base: Jared Foster, LSU
Third Base: Will Toffey, Vanderbilt
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt
Outfield: Jeren Kendall, Vanderbilt
Outfield: Bryan Reynolds, Vanderbilt
Outfield: Trey Harris, Missouri
Outfield: Buddy Reed, FLORIDA
Most Valuable Player: JJ Schwarz, FLORIDA
The Gators will find out on Monday at 12 p.m. who they will open the NCAA Tournament against when the 64-team field is revealed on ESPNU.