Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player named to College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was announced Friday as the first player in Florida Gators history to be named to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson remains first in school history in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224) and is second in four more categories including home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson (the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft) spent three years in the minor leagues and eight in the majors. Some career highlights include earning Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hitting 32 home runs in 2004, smacking the last home run in Expos team history, jacking the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hitting for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hitting three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson will be officially inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, in a ceremony set to take place in Lubbock, TX from June 29-30. He is one of four members of a 2012 class that also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

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SIX BITS: Young, Orr, Horford, Spikes, Donovan

1 » Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to insist he is not too worried about sophomore center Patric Young’s ankle, noting Monday that team doctors have determined he is not in jeopardy of aggravating or worsening the injury though he will “deal with periodically some discomfort and he’s going to have to work his way through that.” “He’s fine right now,” Donovan said. “I don’t expect him to miss practice. He’s not complaining of anything. It could flare up. Patric’s never really I think ever had a sprained ankle. He’s never really dealt with this before so it’s all new to him.” Young himself said that doctors have told him the tendinitis has to do with the lining of his joints and that he does not have any tears or sprains. “It was just from overuse or something like that. It’s just a nagging thing, like a lot of pain whenever I try to just move or walk, lateral movements really affect it,” he said. “I still can’t really jump too well off my right foot and not too well off of two feet. When it comes time for the game, I’m normally ready and it doesn’t really bother me. After a certain level, I have to pass the threshold of pain and then I don’t feel it anymore.” It is unknown whether or not Donovan intends to start Young for the first time in three games on Thursday at Ole Miss.

2 » Gators redshirt freshman defensive tackle Leon Orr, who received a written arrest on Jan. 10 and was given a notice to appear in court for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, has agreed to deferred prosecution with the State Attorney’s Office, according to Florida Today. As a result of the agreement, Orr will pay $50 in court costs and either an additional $150 fine or perform 12.5 hours of community service. Orr was the fifth player to be charged with possession of marijuana since head coach Will Muschamp took over in Jan. 2011. “At the end of the day a mistake was made, and I’ve learned from it,” he tweeted on Jan. 19. Orr played in all 13 games in 2011, registering 10 tackles, a sack and a pass defense.

3 » There is not much to talk about in regards to Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford now that he is out at least until the end of April with a torn labrum. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped an interesting note about Horford in his Friday column, explaining that he is “a likely down-the-road top contender to succeed” Los Angeles Lakers’ point guard Derek Fisher as president of the players’ union two years from now when the latter’s contract expires. Known for his personable yet serious character, Horford is already heavily involved with the league serving as one of the NBA’s biggest international ambassadors. A shift into a role like this would seem natural to many who know him, and Horford himself even tweeted “Maybe…” when a fan asked if he was up for the gig on Jan. 22.

4 » Media shy New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes got on the phone with WEEI radio in Boston, MA following his team’s victory in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Spikes told the hosts that the win was “a dream come true, a childhood dream” and he was “just trying to take it all in right now and enjoy it tonight with my teammates and family.” Missing the majority of the season with a knee injury, Spikes was proud that his late-game interception was able to impact the team. “I don’t want to let nobody down. I want to take my responsibilities and just make a play, and I’ve done that,” he said. There are plenty of Spikes fans in the Patriots organization including owner Robert Kraft, who took the phone and discussed Spikes during the segment (which can be heard in full here). “Do you know how lucky we are to have Brandon Spikes on the team? He’s the man; he’s the man. He told me we were going to win that game and when he made that interception that was so cool,” Kraft beamed. “He told me he was going to do it for Myra [Kraft’s deceased wife]. […] I love having this man on our team.”

5 » Donovan has been quite pleased with guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal all year long, even as the youngster was going through a tough slump toward the end of the non-conference slate. In regards to Boynton, Donovan has seen the notiable improvement in his shot and knows that it will continue to progress and not regress as the season goes on. He’s also pleased that Boynton is driving to the basket, taking pull-up jumpers and getting to the free throw line on a more consistent basis. With Beal, Donovan is happy to see that he has continued his quick maturing process. “When you’re a talented offensive player and when you’re on the court, a lot of times your scoring has a direct [correlation on] the outcome of the game when you’re in high school and your team needs you to score,” he explained. “Sometimes your identity gets wrapped up in scoring. He’s starting to figure out right now that there’s so much more he can do.”

6 » The University of Florida and Gator Boosters, Inc. announced Monday that outfielder Kelsey Bruder (softball) and catcher Mike Zunino (baseball) have been named the 2011 Ben Hill Griffin Award winners. The honor, which is given to “the top male and female student-athletes…is based primarily on athletic achievement” but academics and extra-curricular activities are also considered. Bruder and Zunino were each named SEC Player of the Year in 2011 and led their teams to the 2011 NCAA College World Series in their respective sports. It was the first time in school history that Florida had SEC Players of the Year in softball and baseball simultaneously.

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Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Three drafted Gators shun MLB for 2011-12

Eleven Florida Gators baseball players were selected in the 2011 MLB Draft in June, a school record for the University of Florida. Three of those 11 players – outfielders Preston Tucker and Tyler Thompson as well as right-handed pitcher Greg Larson – have returned for their senior seasons and a shot at the College World Series.

Tucker was picked with the No. 498 overall pick in the 16th round by the Colorado Rockies, Thompson was chosen at the 1,387th spot in the 46th round by the Washington Nationals, and Larson was a 29th round selection (No. 885) by the Los Angeles Angels.

The following now former Gators accepted their deals and left the team:

Junior LHP Nick Maronde – Round 4, Pick 104 – Los Angeles Angels
Junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani – Round 6, Pick 199 – Toronto Blue Jays
Junior LHP Alex Panteliodis – Round 9, Pick 282 – New York Mets
Junior RHP Tommy Toledo – Round 11, Pick 341 – Milwaukee Brewers
Senior 2B (SS) Josh Adams – Round 13, Pick 403 – Florida Marlins
Junior C Ben McMahan – Round 23, Pick 701 – Milwaukee Brewers
Senior RHP Matt Campbell – Round 24, Pick 751 – Philadelphia Phillies
Senior OF Bryson Smith – Round 34, Pick 1,045 – Cincinnati Reds

Additionally, four of Florida’s 2011 high school signees were picked in the first four rounds of the event including two on the first day, which consisted of picks No. 1-60. Though there were indications some might pass on the money and end up playing for UF in 2012, all four players were signed by their respective clubs.

RHP Michael Kelly – Round 2, Pick 48 – San Diego Padres
RHP Hudson Boyd – Round 2, Pick 55 – Minnesota Twins
1B Daniel Vogelbach – Round 3, Pick 68 – Chicago Cubs
RHP Kyle Smith – Round 4, Pick 126 – Kansas City Royals

That leaves the Gators with a eight-person 2011 signing class, which includes four players who were drafted in June but chose not to take their deals.

INF Casey Turgeon – Round 22, Pick 672 – New York Mets
INF Joshua Tobias – Round 31, Pick 937 – Washington Nationals
RHP John Magliozzi – Round 35, Pick 1,080 – Tampa Bay Rays
RHP/OF Ryan Harris – Round 37, Pick 1,139 – New York Yankees
C Brandon Sedell
RHP/3B Justin Shafer
LHP Corey Stump
3B/OF Sean Trent

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SIX BITS: Beal, Benedict, Blakely, SEC, Walker

1 » Attending an offseason basketball camp put on by New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, ESPN’s Andy Katz got another look at Florida Gators freshman guard Brad Beal and again came away impressed – but not because of his shooting.

Beal has been touted as a pure shooter, and he showcased a bit of that ability Saturday afternoon. But he was arguably most impressive off the ball. Beal crashed the glass from the weak side for a series of offensive rebounds and putbacks, using his 6-foot-7 wingspan (which is sort of crazy for a guy measured by camp staff at 6-foot-3.5) to rise to the rim and finish plays against taller defenders. Billy Donovan‘s team desperately needs a more consistent outside shooting presence. Beal should easily provide that. But he may also bring some bonus abilities to the floor, too.

2 » Former five-star recruit Brent Benedict, a redshirt freshman with the Georgia Bulldogs has been granted an unconditional release by the school, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is news for Florida fans because Benedict was once highly recruited by the Gators and is said to be heavily considering transferring to the University of Florida. Though he is a talented player, Benedict is still recovering from a terrible knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school. His knee was completely reconstructed, and Benedict also had to fight through nerve damage in order to return to the field. The AJC reports that “Benedict claimed in march to be ‘100 percent’ recovered from that injury and was medically cleared to play, but he continued to show effects … even in summer workouts.”

3 » Four-star running back Mike Blakely, who similarly received an unconditional release from Florida when he expressed his desire to transfer, may be eligible to play for the Auburn Tigers as soon as 2011 if the school gets its way. According to the Mobile Press-Register, Auburn compliance director Rich McGlynn has petitioned the NCAA to make Blakely eligible immediately due to the fact that he never suited up for the Gators after undergoing shoulder surgery in Gainesville, FL. “We have filed a wavier in an attempt to see if we can have Mike be immediately eligible and we’re in that process right now,” he told the paper.

4 » The Southeastern Conference has sent a proposal to the NCAA outlining significant changes it would like implemented in the recruiting process, according to CBSSports.com’s Bryan Fischer. In short form, some of the changes the SEC and commissioner Mike Slive are proposing include: (a) allowing text messaging between coaches and recruits, (b) earlier first off-campus contact, (c) no Twitter monitoring for who you can follow/be followed by, (d) coaches can receive phone calls from recruits, parents or coaches at any point, (e) eliminate “quiet” period and expand other three recruiting periods, (f) banning seven-on-seven camps and other “non-scholastic” events.

5 » With their 2011 recruiting class now in the fold and the 2012 class coming along nicely, the Gators have begun reaching out to 2013 prospects with the hopes of bringing them on board. Most notably, Florida is making a strong push for the No. 3 overall prospect in the nation according to Rivals, 6’9” 205-pound power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL). According to InsideTheGators.com, Walker has UF in his top five along with Baylor, Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse. Walker told ITG’s Tim Gould that Kentucky’s prowess for developing NBA talent interests him but that the Gators talk about him being a program-changer who can make a major impact on the court from day one. He is not planning on making a decision in the near future but could potentially be a huge get for Florida.

6 » UF’s loss in the 2011 College World Series Championship Series not only cost the school its third national championship of the 2010-11 season, it also put the state of Florida out a few dozen bucks. Governor Rick Scott made a bet with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley that the Gators would prevail in the event. Because Florida lost, Scott will send a key lime pie from Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe in Key West, FL to Haley. If UF had won, Scott would have received a barbecue dinner from Haley.

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Roth silences Gators as Gamecocks sweep College World Series with 5-2 victory Tuesday

After a pair of throwing errors cost them the opening game of the 2011 College World Series Championship Series on Monday, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball hoped to reverse their fortunes on Tuesday with a second crack at the defending champion No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks. Instead, an error in the third propelled a three-run inning and played a large part in South Carolina (55-14) defeating Florida (53-19) 5-2 to win their second-straight NCAA National Championship.

The Gamecocks captured the final national title played at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010 and earned the first contested at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE as the Gators moved to 0-4 in the CWS Championship Series in school history (0-2 vs. Texas in 2005).

South Carolina also won their 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament game dating back to 2010 and improved to 4-1 against Florida in 2011.

Junior right-handed pitcher Michael Roth (14-3) earned the start for USC and was absolutely stellar in his outing, allowing only two earned runs in 7.2 innings while giving up five hits and two walks, hitting a pair of batters, and striking out six.

UF countered with freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-1), who hoped to match Roth pitch-for-pitch and succeeded through the first two innings before struggling mightily with his command in the third.

Whitson started the inning by giving up a stand-up double down the left field line to South Carolina shortstop Peter Mooney, who advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. He was then plated when second baseman Scott Wingo hit a sacrifice fly to right.

With two outs and runners on first and second, first baseman Christian Walker smacked a chopper to the left side that Florida sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana flubbed, scoring another for the Gamecocks. South Carolina added one more in the inning as an infield single by designated hitter Brady Thomas plated the second unearned run of the inning, putting the Gamecocks ahead 3-0.

Having retired eight-straight batters, Roth was tagged for a solo homer cranked to left by Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino in the fourth, reducing Florida’s deficit to 3-1.

UF looked to even things up in the fifth after getting runners on first and second with nobody out. Freshman third baseman Cody Dent was sent to bunt the runners over but fouled out into a strikeout on a 1-2 count; senior center fielder Bryson Smith followed by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning without the Gators plating a run.

USC hoped to increase their lead in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases after Whitson (4.2 IP, 3 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 HBP, 4 K) allowed a pair of two-out singles and hit a batter. He was then pulled for junior RHP Tommy Toledo, who struck out the next batter to save the inning and leave the bases full.

Florida tried to get things going in the sixth, once again getting their first two batters on board. However, a strikeout and consecutive ground outs stranded the runners on second and third in scoring position to conclude the frame.

South Carolina added to their lead in the latter portion of the frame, as Mooney hit a solo homer off Toledo by sending a rocket to right.

The Gators had one more chance in the top of the eighth when Zunino hit a one-out double to right-center and advanced to third on a ground out. Senior second baseman Josh Adams singled to right to score Zunino and reduce the Gamecocks’ lead to 4-2. Unfortunately for UF, junior pinch hitter Tyler Thompson struck out looking to end the frame, stranding Adams on first.

USC tacked on one more run in their final frame, sending a lead-off single from first-to-third on an infield grounder and wild pitch before plating him with a single to right. Head coach Ray Tanner then brought on closer Matt Price, who earned his 20th save of the season and second in as many days.

Florida concluded the 2011 season with a school single-season record 53 wins while also reaching the CWS Championship Series for just the second time in school history. The Gators also won the Southeastern Conference regular season championship and tournament title while boasting the league’s Player of the Year in Zunino.

2011 CWS All-Tournament Team
Third baseman Cody Dent
Center fielder Bryson Smith

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2011 College World Series Championship Series: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 4 South Carolina – Game 2

Event: 2011 NCAA Tournament – College World Series
Location: TD Ameritrade Park – Omaha, NE [Capacity: 24,505]
Time: 8:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN / ESPNHD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(2) FLORIDA GATORS (4) SO. CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Head Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan Head Coach: Ray Tanner
Record: 53-18 Record: 54-14
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida: Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43 ERA)
South Carolina: Junior RHP Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA)

HOME TEAMS

Game 1: Florida | Game 2: South Carolina | Game 3: South Carolina

HISTORY and STREAKS

» South Carolina is 3-1 against Florida in 2011 and 39-29 all-time. USC is also 5-1 all-time against UF in games played at neutral sites.
» The Gamecocks are the defending CWS champions after capturing the title in 2010. The Gators have never won a national title in baseball and are participating in the final series for the second time in school history (2005).
» With a series victory, Florida would be the first team in SEC history to win national championships in football, basketball and baseball. Only two other FBS schools have done so, both in the Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State).
» South Carolina has won 15-straight NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2010.
» The Gators recently set the school’s single-season wins record (53).
» Florida is 8-2 in NCAA action this year.
» The Gators have won 13 of 15 weekend series played this season with one of their two losses coming to the Gamecocks. Florida has captured 27 consecutive series when winning the opening game.
» UF is 39-8 this year when scoring first and 43-4 when outhitting their opponent. The Gators are also 35-6 when hitting a home run and 22-5 when playing error-free.
» The Gators have scored 208 more runs than their opponents this year.
» Florida is 28-1 when holding opponents to two or fewer runs and 37-2 when allowing three runs or less. The Gators are 8-16 when scoring less than three runs and 2-13 when trailing after seven innings.
» UF is 45-2 when scoring 4+ runs and 46-1 when leading after seven innings.
» Florida and South Carolina are the only two teams to play in the final CWS held at Rosenblatt Stadium and compete in the first one at TD Ameritrade Park.
» The Gators are in the CWS in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
» Florida and South Carolina boast different strengths. The Gators lead the Gamecocks in batting average (.309-.295), runs scored (452-412), hits (741-664), home runs (68-45), RBI (418-375), slugging percentage (.465-.430), stolen bases (56-40) and fielding percentage (.975-.974). However, USC holds advantages over UF in walks (283-241), ERA (2.49-2.97) and batting average against (.227-.243).

LAST TIME OUT…

Florida was leading a pitchers duel 1-0 through the first 7.2 innings of the opening game of the CWS Championship Series on Monday. South Carolina came back with a run in the top of the eighth and scored a game-winning run in the top of the 11th due to consecutive throwing errors by UF. The Gators failed to convert a number of scoring opportunities, often negated by stellar defense from the Gamecocks.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino…a powerhouse at the plate who leads the team in batting average (.364), hits (95), homers (18), runs (73), slugging (.655)…and strikeouts (52). He also has 66 RBI on the season.
» Junior first baseman/right fielder Preston Tucker…who is the Gators’ best run producer with 74 RBI. Tucker is hitting .312 with 55 runs, 15 homers and 28 walks.
» Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana…the team’s strongest fielder who recently overcame an 0/17 slump. Fontana, as the leadoff hitter, is hitting .291 with 57 runs, 49 RBI and a team-high 52 walks. He had at one point hit safely in 21-straight games.
» Sophomore closer Austin Maddox…who has made 21 relief appearances (27.0 innings) and has compiled a 0.67 ERA with 21 Ks and only three walks. He is also the team’s starting first baseman when healthy and is hitting .280 with six HR and 35 RBI.
» Junior reliever Nick Maronde (0-1, 2.09 ERA)…who has made a team-high 36 appearances this season and earned two saves in 43 innings pitched. He has amassed 55 strikeouts against only nine walks this season. Just seven of the 26 hits he has allowed over the course of the year have gone for extra bases.
» Senior center fielder Bryson Smith…who leads the Gators with a .475 (19-for-40) average in NCAA play and is currently riding a career-high 14-game hitting streak. Smith is batting .329 with 40 runs, two homers, 22 RBI and 17 walks this season.
» Junior outfielder Daniel Pigott…who was hitting .412 with 10 RBI, 10 runs and a pair of walks in NCAA competition going into Monday’s game. Pigott is batting nearly 70 points higher than his season average when it matters the most.
» South Carolina 1B Christian Walker…who is hitting .356 with 10 homers and 62 RBI this season. He has been the team’s best hitter all season.
» Gamecocks catcher Brady Thomas…who had a stellar 2010 CWS and is batting .314 with 70 hits, 42 RBI and 23 walks this year.
» South Carolina closer Matt Price…who has 19 saves on the season with a 1.87 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Price threw during an incredibly long outing on Friday, tossing 95 pitches in 5.2 innings.

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Errors doom Gators as Gamecocks win 2-1 in 11

The No. 2 Florida Gators maintained a one-run lead for most of the game but a combination of clutching hitting and excellent defense from the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks, along with a pair of throwing errors from Florida, propelled South Carolina to a 2-1 victory in 11 innings on Monday in game one of the 2011 College World Series Championship Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

The Gamecocks (54-14) trailed for the first 7.2 innings of the game but scored a run in the eighth and another in the 11th to hand the Gators (53-18) their second loss of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. South Carolina thwarted multiple opportunities Florida had to score, getting out of a bases loaded, no-outs jam and completing a play at the plate to maintain a tie and ultimately earn the victory.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the call for the Gators and was nearly flawless in his outing, tossing 7.2 shutout innings before giving up a run in the top of the eighth. He struck out six (in the first six innings), gave up three hits and walked one; at one point, Randall retired 18 of 19 batters (including 10 in a row).

The Gamecocks rolled out freshman Forrest Koumas, who was impressive striking out four in 5.2 strong while allowing three hits and a walk. He was replaced by Tyler Webb and John Taylor (8-1), who combined to pitch 4.1 shutout innings in his stead.

Florida got on the board first, manufacturing a run in the bottom of the third. Junior left fielder Tyler Thompson led off with a walk to start the inning, advanced over to third base on a ground out and wild pitch, and scored when freshman third baseman Cody Dent flied out to left on a sacrifice.

It took South Carolina five innings to respond, but the Gamecocks created a similar scoring opportunity of their own. Randall walked shortstop Peter Mooney, the first batter he faced in the eighth, and found him on third after a sacrifice bunt and fly out to right-center. Second baseman Scott Wingo followed with a hard single up the middle to tie the game 1-1 and send Randall to the showers.

The Gators found themselves with a prime opportunity to win the game in the final frame of regulation. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino got on with a walk to start the ninth, and Florida loaded the bases on a single and intentional walk with no outs. However, the Gators hit consecutive groundouts to Wingo to end the inning without plating a single run. Thompson’s grounder resulted in a force out at home plate, and junior right fielder Daniel Pigott hit into a 4-2-3 game-saving double play to end the ninth.

Both teams had a chance to put things away in the 10th but ultimately failed. South Carolina got a pair of runners on base via two singles, but junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde recorded the final two outs of the inning. Dent singled for Florida in the bottom of the inning but was ultimately thrown out at home on a hard hit single by Zunino to left.

After a line out to start the 11th, Maronde (0-1) gave up a single to first baseman Christian Walker. When he was replaced by junior RHP Greg Larson, Walker attempted to steal second and succeeded after Zunino threw the ball into the outfield. Trying to get Walker out at third, senior center fielder Bryson Smith committed the second throwing error of the play, allowing the batter to score and the Gamecocks to take a 2-1 lead.

South Carolina called on closer Matt Price and, just two days after throwing 95 pitchers over 5.2 innings, Price (S 19) retired three of the four batters he faced.

The Gators and Gamecocks will go head-to-head in game two of the CWS Championship Series on Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN). Projected Starters: Florida – Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43 ERA), South Carolina – Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA)

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