An opportunity to capture a share of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season slipped through the grasp of No. 3 Florida Gators baseball on Saturday after a game-ending double play thwarted the Gators’ chances. Florida (40-16, 18-12 SEC) fell 5-4 to the Auburn Tigers (30-26, 13-17 SEC) in their regular season finale after winning the first two games of the weekend series played at Plainsman Park in Auburn, AL.
After shutting out Auburn 6-0 on Thursday, UF routed their hosts 10-1 on Friday in a game that featured junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (6-4) giving up just two hits and two walks while allowing one run (unearned) and striking out seven in 7.0 innings. The Gators used a trio of homers from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (3/5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) and first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) to defeat the Tigers.
Florida hoped to receive some help from their SEC rivals to make them eligible for the league title and got just that on Friday as LSU toppled South Carolina 3-2 in 10 innings to open the door for the Gators. A victory by the UF would have netted them a share of the title, but Florida fell just short of that goal after outscoring AU 16-1 in the first two games of the series.
Sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R [1 ER], 2 BB, 2 K) took the hill for the Gators on Saturday and (with some help from his offense) earned a 4-2 lead before exiting the game. Florida rallied to score three runs in the top of the second and added another in the fourth to achieve that advantage.
UF led until the bottom of the seventh when Auburn took advantage of junior LHP Steven Rodriguez, who surprisingly struggled in his relief outing. Rodriguez (3-2) gave up three earned runs on three hits while striking out two in his one inning of work.
Down one run, the Gators rallied in the top of the ninth and had runners at the corners after Tucker singled to right and Zunino doubled to left. However, Johnson flied out to right field and Tucker was thrown out at the plate to end the game.
Despite losing the game and their opportunity at a conference regular season title, Florida received three solid outings from their starters and showed renewed offensive efficiency over the weekend by scoring 20 runs over the course of the three games.
The Gators will now move on to take part in the 2012 SEC Tournament from May 22-27 in Hoover, AL.