Austin Maddox hasn’t been a freshman since the day he stepped on the Florida campus to play baseball for the Gators. Freshmen don’t put up these numbers, and they certainly don’t show this kind of composure at the plate.
But with two outs and the go-ahead run on third base in the 10th inning, Maddox did what he has been doing all year. He came up with a clutch hit, lining a double to right field to put the Gators ahead in an eventual 4-3 victory over Miami that clinched the best-of-3 Gainesville Super Regional series in two games. With a McKethan Stadium record crowd of 5,783 watching, Florida (47-15) became the first team to clinch a berth in the College World Series, which begins June 19 in Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.
“There’s just under 300 teams that set out every year trying to get to Omaha,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s the top of college baseball. It’s awfully hard to get there. The last game is always the hardest, and this game proved that tonight.”
Maddox’s hit was a rocket. It allowed Nolan Fontana to walk home while Maddox chugged into second base. Fontana had reached on a two-base error by Miami right fielder Chris Pelaez, the Hurricanes’ seventh error of the night. Fontana was bunted to third base by Daniel Pigott and scored when Maddox doubled him home.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well all weekend,” Maddox said. “I’ll remember that hit for the rest of my life.”
Nine of Florida’s 11 runs this weekend came with two outs, while 37 of Maddox’s 71 RBIs this season have come with two outs.
Steven Rodriguez started the 10th inning for the Gators, giving up a leadoff single before he was pulled. Florida brought in Greg Larson to close it. The sophomore has been up-and-down after a stellar freshman campaign, but he was needed because O’Sullivan had already called on closer Kevin Chapman to get starting pitcher Hudson Randall out of trouble in the seventh.
Larson did his job, striking out Michael Broad and then getting designated hitter Rony Rodriguez to hit a grounder to short. The sure-handed Fonatana, who has had just three errors this season, fielded the ball cleanly in the hole and then whipped a quick throw over to first baseman Preston Tucker. The throw was a little higher than some Gator fans would have preferred, but Tucker made the catch and the celebration was on.
“You just keep fighting through it all year,” Larson said. “When an opportunity like this presents itself, you don’t let it go.”
The Gators should be looking at playing game three on Sunday. Miami’s seven errors tied the school’s postseason high, and Jim Morris’ Hurricanes had nine in the two games. With one out and runners on first and second in the ninth inning, Florida’s Mike Zunino hit a ground ball off third baseman Broad’s glove to load the bases. It was Broad’s second error of the game.
After Brian Johnson, who had driven in Florida’s first two runs, struck out looking for the second out, Florida’s hopes looked dim. Junior Josh Adams followed by falling into an 0-2 count before he tapped a weak grounder toward Miami shortstop Stephen Perez.
Perez fielded the ball cleanly. His throw, however, was another story. The one-hop throw handcuffed first baseman Scott Lawson, who couldn’t cleanly pick the ball off the bounce. A run scored, the Florida crowd erupted and the Miami players hung their heads. It was Perez’s second error of the game.
With a one-run lead and three outs away from a victory, Kevin Chapman would have been the logical choice to finish off the Hurricanes. After all, he was a first-team All-SEC closer and was a fourth-round draft selection by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday’s MLB Draft.
But Chapman was unavailable to throw the 10th inning because he had already been used. O’Sullivan gave Chapman the ball after starting pitcher Hudson Randall worked himself into a first-and-third hole with two outs in the seventh inning. The freshman’s pitch count was at 74, but O’Sullivan went to Chapman to try for the 2.2-inning save. But Chapman’s 1-1 fastball was lined over the right field fence by Miami center fielder Nathan Melendres for a three-run home run, giving Miami a 3-2 lead after seven innings.
“He’s been lights out for us all year long,” O’Sullivan said. “If we had the same decision to make again, I’d make the same decision.”
The swing put all of the momentum into the Miami dugout. Before it, Randall was carving up the Miami offense. He went 6.2 innings, giving up three hits and two runs, which both scored when Chapman allowed the home run. Randall also struck out five batters. He pounded the strike zone, throwing 52 of his 74 pitches for strikes.
“I kept attacking the zone,” Randall said. “Our defense is outstanding, and I feel very comfortable with them behind me when I’m on the mound.”
Randall has gotten the reputation as Florida’s big-game pitcher. He was on the mound when the Gators won the regular-season SEC Championship in front of record crowd in Columbia, S.C. Saturday night, the Gators handed him the ball to clinch their berth in the College World Series.
It’s nothing new for Randall. When he played travel ball for East Cobb Baseball, O’Sullivan said Randall was the pitcher they “flipped the ball to when they needed a big win.” He doesn’t get rattled in pressured environments and has turned out two tremendous starts in Florida’s two biggest games of the year.
“He’s a cool customer,” O’Sullivan said. “To ask a freshman to go out there, even though you’re up one game, there’s a lot of pressure. I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do this year.
“He had plenty of opportunities to go other places. I’m awfully glad he’s a part of our program, and we wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”
Florida’s starting pitchers Alex Panteliodis and Randall combined this weekend to throw 15.2 innings, giving up six hits and allowing four runs.
Randall allowed a one-out single to Scott Lawson in the first inning, but he was erased on a double-play ball hit by Yasmani Grandal. The freshman faced the minimum possible 18 hitters through six innings. His streak was broken when Frankie Ratcliff led off the seventh inning with an infield single to second base, a bad bouncer that almost took Adams’ head off.
“They have the best pitching staff that we have seen all year,” Morris said of Florida’s efforts.
While Randall was on top of his game, Miami ace Chris Hernandez was just as good. He went 8.1 innings, giving up three hits and three runs (one earned). He only recorded four strikeouts, but his cutter kept the Florida hitters from hitting balls on the barrel most of the night.
“We’ve been facing him for three years,” O’Sullivan said. “That was by far the best he has thrown against us. He was moving the ball in and out, and he threw strikes.”
Florida jumped to an early lead in the fifth inning.
After Matt den Dekker reached on a bunt single to the pitcher, Mike Zunino dropped a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher. Hernandez fielded the ball quickly and threw to second base to get the lead base runner out, but the throw was wide and caused den Dekker and Miami shortstop Stephen Perez to collide. As the Florida player got to his feet to run to third base, the players remained tangled. Perez’s arm looked like it was holding den Dekker down. The throw beat den Dekker to third base, but second base umpire Phil Benson ruled obstruction on Perez, allowing den Dekker to advance to third base safely.
Johnson followed by lining out to center field, allowing den Dekker to score from third and give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
The Gators pushed their lead to 2-0 in the seventh inning when Johnson singled home den Dekker, who had walked earlier in the inning.
Each team had only one hit through five innings, with Florida’s coming on a bunt. Errors? Well that’s a different story. The Gators had one through the first five innings while the Hurricanes had already committed three.
Florida uncharacteristically committed two errors, breaking a four-game errorless streak. Neither of the two errors Florida committed affected the game.
Broad and Perez combined to give the left side of Miami’s infield four errors. It was only Broad’s third game at third base. He started last night as well, in for regular third baseman Harold Martinez. Martinez missed the game because he had a tennis ball shaped lump on his left shin that became infected after Friday night’s game. He was taken to Shands for treatment, where he will be kept until Sunday and then transported to a Miami hospital. He led Miami’s team with 21 home runs and 69 RBI.
The Gators finished their schedule with a 33-3 record at home.
The post-game dog pile was especially rewarding for den Dekker. He is a four-year starter who has seen the Florida baseball program continually get better each season, and now his college career will culminate with a trip to Omaha.
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted den Dekker last season in the 16th round despite a disappointing statistical season. He decided to come back to improve his stock, but also because he realized how talented this team would be.
“This is what I came back for,” den Dekker said. “We’ve got a great group of guys. I’m proud of everybody on this team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
NCAA DIVISION I BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
GAINESVILLE SUPER REGIONAL
(3) Florida 4, Miami (Fla.) 3, 10 innings
At McKethan Stadium, Gainesville
Florida (47-15) 000 010 101 1 — 4 4 2
Miami (43-20) 000 000 300 0 — 3 6 7
2B—Austin Maddox (F, 16). HR—Nathan Melendres (M, 9).
Leading hitters: Florida, Brian Johnson 1-for-3, 2 RBI; Austin Maddox, 1-for-5, 2B, 1 RBI; Matt den Dekker 1-for-2, 2 runs, 3 walks. Miami, Nathan Melendres 1-for-3, HR, 3 RBI; Scott Lawson 2-for-4; Chris Pelaez 2-for-4, 1 run.
Pitching: Florida, Hudson Randall 6.2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 0 walks, 5 strikeouts, 74 pitches/52 strikes; Kevin Chapman 0.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 run (earned), 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 9/5; Jeff Barfield 1.1 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 12/8; Steven Rodriguez (W, 2-0) 1 inning, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, 11/10; Greg Larson (S, 3) 0.2 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 7/5. Miami, Chris Hernandez 8-1 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs (1 earned), 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, 116 pitches/71 strikes; Daniel Miranda (L, 5-3) 1.2 innings, 1 hit, 1 run (unearned), 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, 34/25.
GAINESVILLE SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 11): (3) Florida 7, Miami (Fla.) 2.
Game 2 (June 12): (3) Florida 4, Miami (Fla.) 3 (10 innings). Florida (47-15) wins best-of-3 series, 2-0; Miami (43-20) is eliminated.
LOS ANGELES SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 11): Cal State Fullerton 4, (6) UCLA 3.
Game 2 (June 12): (6) UCLA 11, Cal State Fullerton 7 (10 innings). Best-of-3 series tied 1-1.
Game 3 (June 13): Cal State Fullerton (46-17) vs. (6) UCLA (47-14), 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
TALLAHASSEE (FLA.) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 11): Florida State 9, Vanderbilt 8.
Game 2 (June 12): Vanderbilt 6, Florida State 2. Best-of-3 series tied 1-1.
Game 3 (June 13): Vanderbilt (46-19) vs. Florida State (46-18), 1 p.m. (ESPN)
AUSTIN (TEXAS) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 11): Texas Christian 3, (2) Texas 1.
Game 2 (June 12): (2) Texas 14, Texas Christian 1. Best-of-3 series tied 1-1.
Game 3 (June 13): Texas Christian (50-12) vs. (2) Texas (50-12), 4 p.m. (ESPNHD)
MYRTLE BEACH (S.C.) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 12): South Carolina 4, (4) Coastal Carolina 3. South Carolina leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.
Game 2 (June 13): (4) Coastal Carolina (55-9) vs. South Carolina (47-15), 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 (June 14): South Carolina vs. (4) Coastal Carolina, if necessary, 1 or 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
CHARLOTTESVILLE (VA.) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 12): (5) Virginia 3, Oklahoma 2. Virginia leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.
Game 2 (June 13): (5) Virginia (51-12) vs. Oklahoma (47-16), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 (June 14): Oklahoma vs. (5) Virginia, if necessary, 1 or 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
CLEMSON (S.C.) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 12): Alabama 5, Clemson 4. Alabama leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.
Game 2 (June 13): Clemson (41-23) vs. Alabama (42-23), 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 3 (June 14): Alabama vs. Clemson, if necessary, 1 or 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
TEMPE (ARIZ.) SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1 (June 12): Arkansas 6, (1) Arizona State 6 (Bottom 9)
Game 2 (June 13): (1) Arizona State (50-8) vs. Arkansas (43-19), 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 3 (June 14): Arkansas vs. (1) Arizona State, if necessary, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
COLLEGE WORLD SERIES / Rosenblatt Stadium / Omaha, Neb. / June 19-30
Qualified: (3) Florida 47-15