Vandy strikes early to stop UF, 7-3

HOOVER, AL — Six-seed Vanderbilt defeated three-seed Florida 7-3 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament before 6,027 at Regions Park Wednesday afternoon. The Gators stranded 14 runners, while the Commodores picked-up 14 hits on the day. Florida will face South Carolina at 10 a.m. (CDT) Thursday with right-hander Billy Bullock (4-3, 4.20) taking the mound for Florida.

With the win, Vanderbilt ran its record to 6-0 against the Gators in the SEC Tournament. Florida couldn’t take advantage of opportunities with runners on the base paths. The Gators left three men on base in the fourth and sixth innings, while leaving two men on in the third and ninth innings.  In both the third and ninth, the Commodores escaped one-out, two on situations. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan credited the Vanderbilt pitching staff for bearing down when they had to.

“You have to tip your hat to their pitchers,” O’Sullivan said. “They made pitches when they had to. For example, in the ninth inning, we had some runners on base with two balls then Vanderbilt fights its way back into the count by throwing good pitches. If they didn’t make pitches then we probably have more hits and the ballgame.”

Florida starter Patrick Keating hit Dominic de La Osa with his first pitch after getting a ground ball out on leadoff hitter David Macias in the top of the first inning. De La Osa moved to second base on shortstop Pedro Alvarez’ fly out to Barnes in left field. Shortstop Ryan Flaherty drove him in with a single to left field. 

Leadoff hitter Avery Barnes was down 0-2 against Vanderbilt starter Mike Minor, but worked his way back to a full count, giving his teammates a nice opportunity to look over the southpaw. Barnes singled and stole second while first baseman Brandon McArthur was at the plate and advanced to third on B-Mac’s fly ball to right field. Cole Figueroa the worked Minor for an eight pitch at bat before lacing a run scoring single into right to tie the game at 1-1.

Steven Liddle and Andrew Giobbi led off the top of the second with back-to-back singles. Alex Feinberg hit a bouncer to second base that Jon Townsend couldn’t get the handle on. The error moved the runners into scoring position. Nine hitter Jonathan White laid down a sacrifice bunt that allowed Liddle to score. Leadoff hitter David Macias then lifted a single to left field scoring Giobbi. De Las Osa then grounded out to third base, scoring Feinberg. Keating walked Alvarez on four pitches giving Vanderbilt two base runners. However, they were unable to get those runners in as Flaherty hit into a 6-3 for the final out of the inning. The damage has been done though as the Commodores jumped out to a 4-1 lead.

“The first two innings were clutch for us, especially the second inning,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “It got the players loosened up and gained some momentum. I thought that Mike Minor did well against a team that is very disciplined at the plate. They really make you throw strikes. When they are successful, they get you really deep into the pitch count But, we really pieced it together.”

“I want to congratulate Vanderbilt and the great game they played,” O’Sullivan said in the post-game press conference. “They got an early lead on us and kept tacking on runs. They made it very difficult for us to get back into the game. The thing that made us successful last weekend was that we were able to come up with that one pitch or one hit when we needed to and we didn’t do that today. We struggled today and left fourteen men on base. We have to tip our hat to Vanderbilt’s pitchers because they made big pitches when they had to and that was the biggest difference in the game.”

White led off the top of the fourth with a single up the middle. He stole second base, which proved unbeneficial as Macias was walked to put two runners on board. De La Osa then lined singled to load the bases. Alvarez hit into a 4-6-3 double play that allowed White to score. Flaherty flew out to Barnes in left for the final out, stranding two runners. However, Vanderbilt led 5-1.

Florida had its best opportunities to score in the third and fourth. In the third, Barnes was at second and McArthur at first with only one out when Figueroa struck out looking at a called third strike. He definitely didn’t appear to agree with the call. Josh Adams hit a ball to second baseman Alex Feinberg, who flipped the ball to Flaherty at short for the force at second on McArthur. In the fourth, the Gators had the bases full with the usually reliable Avery Barnes at the plate. Barnes worked Minor to a 2-2 count, but Minor made a terrific pitch that Barnes missed swinging.

Corbin lifted starter Mike Minor (6-3, 4.26) because the Gators had worked him to 99 pitches. Minor allowed five hits and three earned runs, while walking three and striking out three.

“They are a good hitting team,” Minor said of Florida. “They are very well-disciplined. They made my pitch count go up, but overall I thought it was a good day for both teams. We had to work really hard today.”

The Commodores added another run in the sixth after Keating walked Feinberg to lead off the inning and White followed with his second single of the game. Feinberg scored on Macias’ fly out to center field. Den Dekker’s throw came in a little behind the runner.

Florida began a breakthrough of sorts in the bottom half of the inning. Townsend led off with a single. Designated hitter Buddy Munroe walked. Barnes followed with a bouncing ball that moved the runners up, but Riley Cooper struck out swinging on an 0-2 pitch.  Hampton Tignor then singled driving home Townsend.  McArthur hit a two-out single up the middle that scored Munroe to cut the Vanderbilt lead to 6-3. Figueroa walked, but Adams flew out to second base for the final out of the inning.

Keating (8-1, 3.47) was pulled after six complete. He allowed nine hits and five earned runs suffering his first loss of the season.

“I didn’t do enough to get us the win today,” Keating said. “I didn’t work ahead in the count as much as I needed to and it seemed like every time I walked someone I would give up a groundball through the hole on the next better. I didn’t string enough good pitches together to get the job done today.”

Vanderbilt picked up consecutive singles from de La Osa and Alvarez to start the ninth. But, the Gators turned their fourth double play of the game. Unfortunately, de La Osa scored on the play. Robin was walked on a full count and Liddle singled to left field. But, Giobbi flew out to Jonathan Pigott in right field allowing only one run for a 7-3 advantage.

Vanderbilt reliever Drew Hayes started the bottom of the ninth by walking Adams on four pitches and den Dekker on a full count. Unfortunately, Townsend flew out behind the plate, designated hitter Bryson Barber to short, and Pigott to center field.

Florida will face South Carolina at 10 a.m. CDT Thursday in the first elimination game of the tournament. Florida dropped two of three to the Gamecocks this year in Columbia. It was Bullock who picked up his third win of the season on Friday, May 2nd against South Carolina 9-3. He pitched 5.1 innings and allowed just two earned runs in relief of freshman Tommy Toledo.