ATHENS, Ga. – Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his 17th-ranked Gators pulled another rabbit out of their hats Sunday, scoring six times in the top of the ninth inning to overcome a 7-4 deficit on way to a 10-8 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the No. 6 Bulldogs at Foley Field.
Freshman Preston Tucker hit a 3-run home run and freshman Jerico Weitzel had a two-run single as Florida (34-14, 16-8 SEC East) won its eighth straight game and increased its first-place lead to two games over Georgia (33-15, 14-10 SEC East) with two conference series remaining – next weekend at Louisiana State and the following Thursday through Saturday (May 14-16) at home against Kentucky. Both LSU and Mississippi, the co-leaders in the SEC West, also are 16-8 in league competition.
The home run (his 11th of the season) and the three RBI (he now has a team-high 62 RBI) completed a 3-for-5 day for the former standout at Plant High School in Tampa. Junior Jonathan Pigott also went 3-for-5 for the Gators, who had 14 hits. Junior Matt den Dekker and sophomore Josh Adams had two hits each, with Adams hitting his sixth home run of the season.
The victory, Florida’s 21st come-from-behind triumph of the season, went to senior Patrick Keating (3-3), who got two outs with one strikeout in the bottom of the eighth while facing three batters. One of the outs was a leaping grab at the center-field fence by den Dekker, who robbed Poythress. Keating then got he dangerous Bryce Massanari looking to set up the heroic ninth by his teammates.
Junior closer Billy Bullock, who got a save and victory Saturday in Florida’s 7-6 and 10-9 victories, earned his 10th save of the season, though he allowed a ninth-inning home run by Lyle Allen with one out. Bullock then got pinch-hitter Johnathan Taylor to ground out to shortstop Mike Mooney and then struck out Levi Hyams. Bullock is now three saves short of tying the school record held by Josh Fogg (1998) and Dan Wheeler (1994).
Keating and Bullock were the seventh and eighth pitchers used by O’Sullivan, who made four visits to the mound and used five pitchers in the seventh to limit Georgia to just two runs.
Freshman Alex Panteliodis started and went 4.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts. Junior Jeff Barfield came on and went 1.2 innings, surrendering two runs on three hits.
Freshman Greg Larson, freshman Nick Maronde, freshman Justin Poovey, junior Tony Davis, Keating and Bullock then got the final nine outs while allowing just two runs (one earned) with three hits and two walks while fanning a combined three.
The Gators survived despite surrendering four home runs – a pair by leadoff hitter Matt Cerione and one each to Rich Poythress and Allen. Georgia managed 14 hits, with Cerione having three hits and Colby May, Poythress, Peter Verdin and Hyams with two each.
Justin Grimm started and went six innings for Georgia, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts. He was followed by Justin Earls, Jeff Walters, Cecil Tanner and Steve Esmonde. Walters started the ninth and got an out but surrendered a run. Tanner didn’t get an out but he allowed four earned runs, surrendering Tucker’s big blow, one of the two hits he allowed with a pair of walks.
Polythress’ sacrifice fly in the first inning gave Georgia a 1-0 lead, scoring Cerione, who had doubled to lead off the game for the Bulldogs. The Gators tied it in the top of the second when Adams led off with his sixth home run of the season. But the Bulldogs answered when Michael Demperio tripled home Verdin to make it 2-1.
The Gators tied things in the fifth when Mooney hit a sacrifice fly to score Pigott.
But Georgia answered with three runs in its half of the inning. After striking out Demperio, Cerione homered to left for a 3-2 lead. When May followed with a single, O’Sullivan brought in Barfield, who was greeted by Poythress’ 2-run homer that made it 5-2.
Florida got one of the runs back in the sixth when Pigott singled home den Dekker to make the deficit 5-3.
But the Bulldogs went up 7-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Barfield went to the mound to start the inning, which before it was over would see four mound visits by O’Sullivan and five Florida pitchers.
Cerione got one of the runs with his leadoff homer, chasing Barfield and bringing in Larson, who got May on a grounder to Mooney. Poythress then followed with a single to left before Larson struck out Bryce Massanari.
After Poythress went to second on a passed ball and Lewis walked, O’Sullivan visited the mound again and brought in Maronde. Allen reached on an error, scoring Poythress and ending Maronde’s day as O’Sullivan brought in Poovey, who walked Verdin on four pitches to load the bases.
So for the fourth time, O’Sullivan ambled to the mound and brought in Davis, who got Hyams to ground out to first on a 2-0 pitch, Tucker flipping the ball to Davis, who touched the bag for the third out.
Florida, which had rallied from an 8-0 deficit after two innings in Friday’s opener to win a game suspended by rain and finished Saturday in 11 innings, began its comeback in the eighth with a single run. Tucker led off with a single to right, went to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on den Dekker’s single to cut the Georgia lead to 7-4.
The Gators started their ninth-inning rally with one out. Mooney singled to right to chase Walters and bring in Tanner. Avery Barnes singled to left, with Mooney stopping at second. Pinch-hitter Foster walked to load the bases. A wild pitch brought home Mooney and moved the runners to second and third.
Tucker then drove a 1-1 pitch from Tanner out in center to give the Gators an 8-7 lead.
Adams walked, and Tanner was replaced by Esmonde, who was greeted by den Dekker’s double to center that moved Adams to third. Weitzel then singled to center and scored Adams and den Dekker to make it 10-7.
Before traveling to Baton Rouge for a battle between the two division leaders, Florida has a Wednesday night game against Florida Gulf Coast at McKethan Stadium. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. It was a 12-3 victory over the Eagles on April 21 in Fort Myers that started the current streak.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE BASEBALL
EAST SEC Pct. GB All Pct.
Florida 16-8 .667 — 34-14 .708
Georgia 14-10 .583 2.0 33-15 .688
South Carolina 12-12 .500 4.0 30-18 .625
Vanderbilt 10-13 .435 5.5 27-20 .574
Kentucky 9-15 .375 7.0 24-23 .511
Tennessee 7-17 .291 9.0 21-27 .438
WEST SEC Pct. GB All Pct.
Louisiana State 16-8 .667 — 36-13 .735
Mississippi 16-8 .667 — 36-13 .735
Arkansas 14-9 .609 1.5 31-14 .689
Alabama 14-9 .609 1.5 32-15 .681
Auburn 8-16 .333 8.0 27-22 .551
Mississippi State 6-17 .261 9.5 21-26 .447
Friday, May 1
Florida 9, South Carolina 9 (9), suspended
Kentucky 6, Tennessee 4
South Carolina 8, Vanderbilt 5
Mississippi 9, Auburn 2
Alabama 10, Mississippi State 8
Louisiana State at Arkansas, ppd., rain
Saturday, May 2
Florida 7, Georgia 6
Florida 10, Georgia 9 (11) (completion of suspended game)
Arkansas 11-0, Louisiana State 4-5
Mississippi 8, Auburn 2
South Carolina 14, Vanderbilt 5
Tennessee 8, Kentucky 2
Mississippi State 7, Alabama 3 (suspended, top 6, rain)
Sunday, May 3
Florida 10, Georgia 8
Kentucky 17, Tennessee 11
South Carolina 11, Vanderbilt 3
Louisiana State 4, Arkansas 3
Mississippi 11, Auburn 4
Alabama 17, Mississippi State 16 (completion of suspended game)
Alabama at Mississippi State, cancelled
Wednesday, May 6
Florida Gulf Coast at Florida, 6:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Wofford, 7 p.m.
Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tenn., 7 p.m.
Friday, May 8
Florida at Louisiana State, 8 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Georgia, 7 p.m.
South Carolina at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
Auburn at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m.
Arkansas at Alabama, 7:35 p.m.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 9
Florida at Louisiana State, 8 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Georgia, 1 p.m.
South Carolina at Tennessee, 4 p.m.
Auburn at Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Arkansas at Alabama, 5:05 p.m.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 10
Florida at Louisiana State, 1 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Georgia, 2 p.m.
South Carolina at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Auburn at Kentucky, 1 p.m.
Arkansas at Alabama, 3:05 p.m.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, 2:30 p.m.