Fighting and clawing their way through a three-game road series against the No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores over the weekend, No. 5 Florida Gators baseball won two of three games over a four-day span that included an extra-inning finale to create a three-way tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference regular season standings.
FRIDAY: Florida hit the road hoping to take advantage of Vanderbilt early and often. They had no such luck during their first day as sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall drew the start and gave up four runs (two earned) on eight hits in five innings without striking out a single batter. The Gators trailed the Commodores 4-2 through five innings before rain and lightning suspended the game until Saturday.
SATURDAY: The second half of the game begin with a pair of scoreless frames. Then Florida tied it up 4-4 in the top of the seventh. With one out and redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-2, R) on base after smacking a lead-off single up the middle, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R, BB) homered to right field to even up the contest. Vanderbilt took a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, but UF did what they could to take advantage of their three remaining outs.
Senior second baseman Josh Adams (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) led off the inning with a solo shot to left to tie the game. Then, after junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-4, R) singled to left field with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch, senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-5, RBI) doubled to right to score Pigott before the frame ended two batters later. Junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani (5-2) picked up the win after getting the final two outs of the eighth, and sophomore RHP Austin Maddox earned his second save of the season by pitching a hitless ninth.
Just a few hours later, the Gators and Commodores went at it again. Florida took an early 1-0 lead in the second game of the series after Smith (1-4, HR, RBI, R) homered in the top of the third, but Vanderbilt piled it on from there scoring two runs in the bottom of the inning, six in the fifth, two in the sixth and four more in the seventh to annihilate UF 14-1. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson
(7-3) had the worst start of his career, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings of work. If that wasn’t enough, freshman LHP Daniel Gibson
, the second reliever out of the bullpen, coughed up five earned runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
SUNDAY: With the series even and VU still holding down first place in the SEC, the Gators had their work cut out for them in the rubber match. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson got the call for Florida but only lasted 4.1 innings after giving up three earned runs on five hits while striking out five. Vanderbilt led 3-1 through the first four innings with UF’s sole run coming on a solo homer by Maddox in the top of the second.
Junior LHP Nick Maronde relieved Whitson and played top-notch ball for the Gators, striking out three and only allowing a single hit in 3.1 innings. His efforts allowed Florida to tie the game with single runs in the seventh and eighth inning. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino smacked a solo shot to start the seventh, and the Gators rallied in the eighth to get Fontana (3-5, 2 R) home from third base. With the bases loaded and one out, Zunino hit a sacrifice fly to left field to tie the game 3-3.
The Commodores blew a chance in the ninth by stranding a pair of runners, and both teams left two on base with one out in their portion of the 10th. Vanderbilt got Florida to ground out thrice in the 11th, and junior RHP Tommy Toledo struck out back-to-back batters with the winning run on third base in the bottom of the inning.
The Gators took a breath and entered the 12th hoping to bring the game home. Fontana walked on a full count to start the inning, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and was joined on base by Tucker, who was intentionally walked. The Commodores called for a pitching change, replacing Jack Armstrong with Navery Moore. After working Moore to a full count, Zunino (2-5, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 R) hit a three-run homer to right field to give UF (39-13, 20-7 SEC) a 6-3 lead and clinch the series at VU (42-8, 20-7 SEC). Toledo (3-3) picked up the win after striking out three in two full innings.
The victory propels Florida into a three-way tie for the SEC lead with Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Each team sports a 20-7 conference record and is set for a separate three-game series next weekend. UF will host Kentucky Thursday-Saturday at home after facing Jacksonville on Tuesday at 7 p.m.