By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 4 seed Florida Gators baseball (43-16) was lifted over the No. 1 seed LSU Tigers on Saturday by a ninth-inning solo homer from freshman catcher Mike Rivera (1/2, RBI, R, HR, 2 BB), who pushed Florida to a dramatic 2-1 win in the semifinals of the 2015 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.
Junior right-handed pitcher Taylor Lewis (6-1, 1.21 ERA) earned the win in an extended relief appearance. He allowed one base runner over 4.1 innings as he sent UF to the event’s title game against No. 2 Vanderbilt on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Here are three takeaways from the thrilling Gators come-from-behind victory:
1. Making him work for it: LSU started Alex Lange (10-0, 1.80 ERA), the 2015 SEC Freshman of the Year, on Saturday. While Lange was on the mound, Florida was held scoreless, but the Gators did force into him multiple jams, including loading the bases twice. The Tigers, however, stranded nine UF runners through the first seven innings as the lower seed was 0/5 with runners in scoring position. By the end of the seventh, Lange had thrown 100+ pitches and his day was done. As soon as Lange exited, Florida figured out how to put runs on the board. By working the count and taking pitches early in the game, the Gators gave themselves an opportunity to face the more vulnerable Tigers bullpen.
2. Base running blunders nearly blew it: Rivera bailed out two of his teammates, freshman designated hitter JJ Schwarz (2/4, RBI) and sophomore first baseman Peter Alonso (0/1, 3 BB), in a major way. In the bottom of the eighth, Schwarz doubled off the wall, scoring UF’s first run of the game. However, while running from first, Alonso missed his stop sign at third and headed for home before eventually turning around and getting caught in a rundown; Schwarz wandered off second base during the pickle and got caught by LSU’s heads-up defense. The result of the play was one run for the Gators and a double play, rather than UF winding up with a run and men on second and third with no outs in the inning. It looked as if Florida had blown its lone opportunity to pile on runs and win the game.
3. Still no established third starter: The two pitchers who have occupied the No. 3 spot in Florida’s rotation, freshman RHP Alex Faedo and sophomore RHP Dane Dunning have combined for just four total innings in SEC Tournament play. Faedo (2.2 IP, 6 H, ER, K) was fortunate to exit Saturday’s game having only given up a single run. The Gators have leaned on their bullpen depth throughout the season, and it won them the game Saturday. However, in the NCAA Tournament, Florida lacking a full rotation will certainly catch up with them.
What else? Though nothing is set in stone, the Gators’ victory on Saturday likely locked up a national seed for Florida, meaning UF will probably host the Gainesville Regional as well as a Super Regional should the program advance past the first portion of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.