By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
No. 13 Florida Gators baseball (37-19, 21-9 SEC) took care of business against the Tennessee Volunteers (31-22, 12-18 SEC), ending the regular season as Southeastern Conference champions and with the top seed in the league’s upcoming tournament due in large part to a 2-1 series victory.
Florida’s 6-5 win in the series opener on Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, locked up the SEC East for the Gators and guaranteed the team at least a share of the conference regular-season crown, which UF locked up outright with a 4-2 victory in game two on Friday.
The 2014 SEC title is the 13th for Florida baseball, third under current Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan (2010, 2011). He is now tied with Dave Fuller (1948-1975) for the most SEC titles among Florida skippers.
UF also secured the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s 2014 SEC Tournament. Playing in the bottom bracket, Florida will receive a bye before taking on either No. 8 Alabama or No. 9 Kentucky on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The double-elimination tournament will be played in Hoover, Alabama, and be aired across a number of different stations.
Sophomore center fielder Harrison Bader (3/5, R, RBI) played a big role in Thursday night’s win. Florida was down to its last out, trailing Tennessee 5-4 in the top of the ninth, when Bader hit an RBI double to score junior second baseman Casey Turgeon (2/6, R). It was the start of a one-man show that would go on to win the game for UF.
Two innings later in the 11th, Bader singled, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error and crossed the plate on a fielding error. Freshman left-hander Kirby Senad (1.0 IP, H, K) tossed a scoreless 11th to preserve the 6-5 victory.
Junior third baseman Josh Tobias (1/1, 2 RBI) came through in the clutch for the Gators as a pinch hitter on Friday. Florida led 2-1 in the eighth with the bases loaded when Tobias singled and plated two insurance runs. UT rallied for one run in the eighth, but Snead (2.1 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, K) avoided further damage with UF holding on to win 4-2.
The Gators had little to play for in the regular-season finale, but the Vols were still fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament. After wrestling back and forth, Tennessee went ahead 7-5 with a three-run fifth and did not look back. O’Sullivan treated the game as an opportunity to start some of his reserves and give innings to some of his lesser-used arms. Eight Florida hurlers made appearances on Saturday.
Though the Gators captured their third SEC regular-season title in the last five seasons, Florida has not had nearly as much success in the SEC Tournament.
UF next week will look to win its first tournament championship since 2011 and just the second in 23 years dating back to 1991.