It was another stellar evening for the University of Florida baseball program. The Gators unveiled numerous big plays to secure a second consecutive win over 13th ranked Vanderbilt that clinched the series against their Eastern Division rival and a berth in next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament. The 5-4 victory also marked the first one run victory for Florida.
The Gators (33-20, 16-13) are currently the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament. They are tied with Kentucky (41-14, 16-13), who holds a tiebreaker edge on Florida based on the Wildcats 2-1 series record over Florida. A win by the Gators tomorrow, coupled with an Ole Miss win over Kentucky would send Florida to Hoover, Alabama with the #3 seed.
“It was a great game,” O’Sullivan said. “ To come down at the end like that with Alvarez is not exactly how we want to end up to be honest with you,. We were forced to use (Patrick) Keating. We knew all along that we might be possibly use him at the end of a ballgame, because this was the pivotal game of this series. Obviously, we won’t start him tomorrow, but we’ve got him in relief. It sets us up well for the tournament because we can start him on Wednesday, while those other guys can get another days rest.”
“We’re really starting to come together,“ O’Sullivan added. “We’re probably playing our best baseball of the year right now. Offensively, we’ve been clicking the past couple of weeks.”
Tonight’s game resembled a reversal of roles as Vanderbilt tallied a three-spot in the fourth. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez singled with one out. Shortstop Ryan Flaherty followed with a single up the middle. Shea Robin popped out to catcher Teddy Foster behind the plate for the second out. First baseman Andrew Giobbi turned on the first pitch and drilled it into left field just out of the reach of a diving Avery Barnes for a two-run double. Second baseman then doubled to drive home Giobbi for the Commodores third run of the inning.
The Gators answered with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. Vanderbilt starter Caleb Cotham had a bad series of pitches and walked Josh Adams and hit designated hitter Bryson Barber with a pitch to give the Gators two base runners. Second baseman Clayton Pisani smashed a double down the right field line, scoring both runners to close the gap to 3-2.
The Florida offense struck again in the bottom of the fifth. Left fielder Avery Barnes led off with a single up the gut. Matt den Dekker followed with a single of his own up the middle giving the Gators runners on the corners. It didn’t matter though, because Cole Figueroa cleared the bases with a bomb over the left field fence that cleared the bases and provided the winning margin for a 5-3 lead.
Did it leave Figueroa feeling very good? If so, how good ?
“Good enough to know that we’re going to Hoover next week, so that’s good enough for me,” Figueroa said with a grin. “It feels good. It’s been weighing on us all week. We just wanted to get this series going and it’s huge. A lot of pressure is off us now.”
Barnes provided the defensive highlight in the sixth. With one man on, Robin reached on a fielder’s choice. He moved to second on a single by Feinberg. Designated hitter Curt Casali singled to left field. Barnes grabbed the ball on the bounce and as Robin had rounded third and was headed home. However, Barnes fired the ball on-line to Foster waiting in front of the plate. He applied the tag for the final out of the frame and the Gators maintained the 5-3 lead.
In the seventh, there was more quality Florida defense. The Commodores got their leadoff batter Parker Hanks on with a single. Hanks was the nine hole hitter, which meant Locke would have to go through the top of the Vanderbilt order with a man on and no outs. But, leadoff hitter David Macias hit a sharp grounder to Adams at third base. The freshman scooped it up and fired on to Pisani at second, who fired just in the nick of time to McArthur for the 5-4-3 double play.
Locke allowed a double to start the eighth and issued a walk to Flaherty on four consecutive pitches. O’Sullivan made the call to the pen for right-hander Josh Edmondson, who came in and methodically struck out Robin, Giobbi, and Feinberg in order to retire the side and preserve the Florida lead.
Locke (5-2, 3.07) pitched seven innings and allowed 10 hits and just three earned runs, while striking out four.
“It’s huge,” Locke said of tonight’s win. “That was our goal at the beginning of the week to get it done early. That’s why we brought Patrick (Keating) in to close it tonight. We knew that if we had a lead, we were going to close it. We didn’t want this thing going into Sunday. We wanted to sweep these guys and still have the possibility of hosting a regional. That’s one of our goal’s right now.”
Vanderbilt made one final run at the Gators in the top of the ninth. With one out, White reached on a fielding error by Jon Townsend, who had replaced McArthur at first base. David Macias then singled on a high hopper that bounced into right field giving the ’Dores runners on the corners. O’Sullivan called on usual Sunday starter Patrick Keating to come out of the pen in relief. Keating got de Las Osa to ground out to third, scoring White and closing the gap to 5-4. He then challenged All-American Pedro Alvarez and struck him out to end the game.
“Sully had confidence in me to go right at him,” Keating said. “It was a good battle. Pedro is probably one of the best players in the country. So, that was a great battle for me personally just to go against the best there is and see what happens.”
Edmondson pitched 1.1 scoreless innings and gave up just one hit, while striking out three Commodroes batters. Keating picked up his first save of the season.
“It’s a good one, especially in the clutch like that,” Edmondson said of his retiring the side with runners on “That was big for my teammates, just to show them that I can come in there in the clutch, pick everyone up and get into the playoffs.”
“It’s nice to see Josh coming back,” O’Sullivan said. “I think this should give him a world of confidence coming into tournament play….His fastball is better. I think that he’s gotten better velocity on his fastball and tonight. I think that it was ninety or ninety-one tonight. It looks like his arm is bouncing back. And to solidify our bullpen, that’s huge.”
Den Dekker went 3 for 5 in the game. Six different Florida starters collected hits.
Florida and Vanderbilt will close out the series tomorrow afternoon at 1pm. The Gators will start either Tommy Toledo or Kyle Mullaney.
SEC Tournament Seedings as of May 17th..
1. Georgia (20-8-1)
2. LSU (17-11-1)
3. Kentucky (16-13)
4. Florida (16-13)
5. Vanderbilt (15-13)
6. Alabama (15-14)
7. South Carolina (in with win or either Ole Miss or Arkansas loss)
8. Ole Miss (in with win or either South Carolina or Arkansas loss)
9. Arkansas (in with win and South Carolina or Ole Miss loss)
Tennessee, Auburn, and Mississippi State are all eliminated