Gators sweep Vandy with 11th inning heroics

Sophomore Cole Figueroa stepped up to the plate in the eleventh inning and punched a leadoff single right up the middle. He moved to second on freshman Josh Adams single to left field. Two batters later with two outs in the inning, senior Jon Townsend ripped a single in front of Vanderbilt left fielder Parker Hanks, who threw on to the plate trying to beat Figueroa to the plate. Hanks throw was just up the third base line and Figueroa safely slid across home plate for the Gators 13-12 victory, which clinched the sweep of the Commodores, a third-seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and another legitimate feather in their caps for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to consider. Florida has gelled as a team and appears to be peaking at the right time.

“It was awesome,” Figueroa said of his crossing the plate with the winning run. “The things that run through your head. You know, you’ve been out here all day, been out for a four hour game, extra innings. It just makes it all worth it when you cross that plate for the last time.”

It was a fitting end to the regular season for Townsend and the Florida seniors. The winning run scored by a draft eligible sophomore who has given so much to the Florida program.

“I got a good pitch to hit,” Townsend said. “I’m sure that he (Brett Jacobson) was out there getting tired. I’m not sure what inning that was for him. He was probably in his third or fourth inning. He left a breaking ball up in the zone and it was a pretty easy pitch to hit and I’m glad that I connected with it.”

Florida (34-20, 17-13) keeps finding a way and picking themselves up. Players who had seen very little action, struggled, or were trying to stay in the line-up stepped forward in this game and throughout the weekend. When the Gators committed an error they simply shook it off and responded by making something good happen offensively. This team has chemistry. They look to each other to find a way.

“Definitely,” freshman Josh Adams stated. “You can’t dwell on it (mistakes) too much like when I made the error. You can’t come in and dwell on it and take it into your bat. Staying focused is pretty much what we’re trying to do and keep each other up and just have good AB’s when we’re hitting. And when something happens to where one of us gets down, we’re right there to pick each other up”

“Coach O’Sullivan has always said that we’re tough when we’ve got our backs against the wall,“ Townsend recalled. “And going into this weekend, we knew that. We knew that we had to get the job done in order to secure our future. I think that was the main part of it is that we knew we had to win in order to keep playing.”

There is no quit in these Gators.

“That’s exactly, right,” Adams said. “We knew this was our last weekend here at home and we wanted to leave the fans with something good to see and we just gave it our all.”

The Commodores (37-18, 15-14) owned Florida through three-and-a-half. The score was 7-1and 13th ranked Vanderbilt had outscored, out-hit, and out pitched the Gators. They had also played better defensively. The Eastern Division rivals were riding an emotional high, no doubt fired-up after getting beaten by the Gators in the first two games of the series. 

But, Florida rose to the occasion, chipped away at the Commodores lead, and fought their way through for the win. In fact, the weekend saw the Gators win their first one-run game in conference play, their first conference sweep of a ranked opponent, and today- their first extra inning victory of the season.

And Florida will have to face the Commodores at least once more. The #3 Gators will square off against #6 Vanderbilt at 1pm on Wednesday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. The winner will face the winner of the South Carolina/LSU game on Thursday.

High swirling winds led to eight home runs at McKethan Stadium by a pair of clubs who ranked among the three lowest in home runs in the Southeastern Conference coming into the weekend. 

Leadoff hitter David Macias got the game started quickly for the Commodores as he ripped a double to right-center in the top of the first. Two batters later, Pedro Alvarez hit a high fly ball to deep center field that got caught in those high winds and caused Matt den Dekker to misplay the ball, allowing Alvarez to wheel into second base for a stand-up double. Macias thought den Dekker would catch the ball, so he tagged up as the ball hit the ground and could only get to second base. Clean-up hitter Ryan Flaherty worked Toledo for a walk to load the bases. In fact, Toledo had secured 0-2 counts on both Alvarez and Flaherty before losing them. Both batters worked Toledo for eight pitches before doubling and walking. Catcher Shea Robin then hit a run scoring single to right field. Toledo struck out Andrew Giobbi for the second out of the inning, but was unable to get out with just one earned run, as Steven Liddle hit a lazy ball to right field for a two-run single, scoring Alvarez and Flaherty to give the Commodores a 3-0 lead.

Toledo fanned nine hole hitter Jonathan White to start the top of the second. He got Macias to fly out to left field for the second out. Unfortunately, right fielder Dominic de La Osa pounded a ball over the center field fence for a solo shot, which gave Vanderbilt a 4-0 advantage.

He hit Robin on an 1-0 pitch to start the third inning and O’Sullivan had seen enough. It just wasn’t Toledo’s day. He allowed six hits and four earned runs, while striking out three in just two innings of work. The Florida manager went to his bullpen for right-hander Clint Franklin.

Moments later, catcher Buddy Munroe threw the ball away for an error when Robin was stealing second base. Robin advanced to third on the error and scored on Steven Liddle’s fly ball to center field.

Just as they have for much of the season, Florida got on the scoreboard with two outs in the inning. This time it was the third. Den Dekker drilled a 2-1 offering from Vanderbilt starter Nick Christiani over the left field bleachers to finally get the Gators on the scoreboard 5-1. 

Vanderbilt answered with a pair of runs in the top half of the fourth. Macias singled with one out. De La Osa recorded the second out of the inning with a fly ball to right field. But, Alvarez belted two-run home run to center field.

First baseman Brandon McArthur wasted little time getting aboard in the bottom half of the fourth. The senior ripped a double down the left field line and was immediately driven across the plate when Josh Adams blasted a ball over the left field fence. Townsend singled to left field, but the Gators were unable to extend the inning as Christiani struck out Riley Cooper and Munroe to get out of the inning. Vanderbilt led 7-3.

A stellar defensive play got Florida out of the fifth inning without any damage. Giobbi singled and was standing at second base after a fly out from Liddle. He took third and tried to score on Alex Feinberg’s single to center, but den Dekker hit the cut off man, Townsend, who fired home to Munroe who applied the tag on Giobbi for the final out of the frame.

The Gators knocked down the door- make that ‘Dores in the bottom half of the fifth. With one out, den Dekker singled up the middle. Figueroa was then walked on a 3-1 pitch. Adams singled through the left-side gap and drove in den Dekker. Designated hitter Bryson Barber jacked a1-0 pitch over the right field fence for a three-run home run that tied the game at 7-7.

One inning later, Hampton Tignor hit his third home run of the season to give Florida an 8-7 lead. Franklin was lifted by O’Sullivan after 3.2 innings of work and was replaced by left-hander Tony Davis, who pitched to Flaherty in the 6th inning, before giving way to Patrick Keating.

Figueroa cleanly fielded a ball hit by Feinberg to lead off the eighth inning. However, Figueroa uncharacteristically overthrew first baseman Brandon McArthur for the error. White doubled to right field giving the Commodores runners in scoring position. Macias flied out to right field, scoring Feinberg. de La Osa popped out to McArthur at first for the second out of the frame. The Gators opted to intentionally walk Alvarez who was 3-3 on the day. However, the move backfired as Flaherty rocketed the pitch out of McKethan Stadium for a three-run home run giving the Commodores a 11-8 lead.

Florida responded with four runs of their own to regain the lead. Bamberg pinch-hit for Barber to start the inning. He was walked on a 3-2 pitch. Corbin went to his bullpen for Drew Hayes, who struck-out Townsend and Riley Cooper. Tignor singled on a full count to give Florida runners on the corners. Barnes walked to load the bases, prompting Corbin to go back to his bullpen. This time he called on Brett Jacobson, who was rudely welcomed by den Dekker with a two-run single. Den Dekker quickly stole second base and Figueroa delivered once again with a two-run single of his own to give the Gators a 12-11 lead.

Right-hander Kyle Mullaney came on in relief of Keating in the ninth. Vanderbilt once again took advantage of another Florida error to tie the game-up and send it into extra innings. Giobbi reached when Adams overthrew McArthur at first. He ran on to second on the play. Corbin opted for pinch runner Brad French, who moved to third Liddle’s ground ball to short. Feinberg singled home French to send it into the ninth.

Townsend doubled in the ninth, but was left stranded and the game went to the 10th inning, where both teams went three-up and three-down.

Mullaney (3-4, 5.14) did another beautiful job in the 11th sending the Commodores down in order. He pitched three innings, allowing one hit and one unearned runs, while striking out four. It was Mullaney’s most impressive performance of the season.

“It was huge for him,” Adams said of Mullaney’s outing. “He hasn’t been throwing the ball very well lately and for him to come in with a chance for us to host on the line I know that’s got to be a great feeling for him to come in and do the great job that he did.”

Figueroa’s heroics lasted all weekend. He went 6 for 12 (.500) with two home runs. Den Dekker also had a tremendous series hitting 7 for 13 (.538). He stole three bases, including Florida’s 100th stolen base of the season on Friday.

The Gators are expected to pitch Patrick Keating (7-0, 3.15) on Wednesday afternoon against Vanderbilt left-hander Mike Minor (5-3, 4.20) or right-hander Caleb Cotham (7-4, 3.70).