By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 4 seed Florida Gators baseball (44-16) rebounded from an early loss to win four straight games and capture the 2015 SEC Tournament Championship. Florida defeated the No. 2 seed Vanderbilt Commodores 7-3 on Sunday in Hoover, Alabama, to clinch its seventh SEC Tournament title, first since 2011.
On Monday, the Gators were awarded the No. 4 overall seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. As such, Florida will host the Gainesville Regional and would host a Super Regional should it advance past the opening portion of the event. UF will host Florida Atlantic, South Florida and Florida A&M in regional play and would match up with the winner of the Tallahassee Regional (hosted by Florida State).
With their backs against the wall, the Gators won four win-or-go-home games in as many days to overcome an opening-round loss and early trip to the loser’s bracket of the SEC Tournament. Florida had a bye in round one and dropped its second round game 7-6 to Arkansas in heartbreaking fashion early Thursday morning.
UF faced elimination in every game going forward but did not falter, starting with an 11-2 victory over Auburn. Florida got revenge against Arkansas in a 10-0 run-ruled game and won a 2-1 thriller against SEC regular-season champion LSU in the semifinals.
In Sunday’s finale, the Gators and Commodores endured two weather delays in the first three innings of play; UF led 2-1 during the first and 5-2 during the second, which lasted for two hours and 15 minutes with the teams in the bottom of the third inning. Junior right-handed pitcher Eric Hanhold (2.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, K, WP), the Gators’ starter, exited after the second delay as the UF bullpen was asked to fend off VU over the final six innings.
Here are three takeaways from the trophy-winning game:
1. Setting the tone early: Junior left fielder Harrison Bader (1/5, HR, RBI, 2 R) followed up a 3-for-4 day against LSU with a leadoff solo homer in the title game. Bader was placed at the top spot of the batting order due to the absence of freshman second baseman Dalton Guthrie, who sprained his wrist in Saturday’s semifinal game.
2. Have yourself a day, Buddy: If Guthrie is forced to miss any more time, the leadoff spot might should go to sophomore center fielder Buddy Reed (3/4, 2 R, RBI, BB). Reed’s ability to do it all was on display Sunday, from his RBI double to left center to legging out an infield single with his eye-popping speed.
3. Lefties lead the way: When the Commodores threatened to get back in the game, Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to junior left-handed pitcher Danny Young (3.1 IP, 2 H, 3 K), who earned the win as he carried Florida into the eighth inning as UF extended its lead to 7-3. As Young started to fade, O’Sullivan called on another southpaw, sophomore Kirby Snead, to close the game. Snead (1.2 IP, 2 H, 3 K) got it done, working out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth inning and avoiding trouble with two base runners in the bottom of the ninth.