No. 2 Florida Gators baseball looked to be in control all afternoon, but it took a single pitch from sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez to change that. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Mississippi State Bulldogs second baseman Nick Vickerson hit a walk-off, two-run homer to give his team a 4-3 victory and force game three in the Super Regionals at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
MSU (38-24) came from behind to tie the game 2-2 in the seventh and capitalized on a pitching change by Florida (49-17) to require the winner-takes-all contest on Sunday.
Hoping to continue his exceedingly successful freshman campaign, right-handed pitcher Kasrten Whitson got the start for the Gators on Saturday and looked great most of the game, only allowing one hit while striking out six batters in his first six innings before being pulled after getting into trouble in the seventh.
The contest began with two scoreless innings until Florida rallied in the top of the third. With freshman third baseman Cody Dent (1-4, R) on via a lead-off walk and senior center fielder Bryson Smith (3-5) joining him on the bags with a double to right-center, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-3, RBI, BB) stepped up and hit a sacrifice fly and score UF’s first run of the game.
The Gators added another in the fourth off a solo homer to right-center by senior 2B Josh Adams (2-4, HR, RBI, R) but also stranded men on first and second by getting back-to-back outs to end the inning.
Whitson retired 13 consecutive Bulldogs and headed into the seventh with a one-hitter. Then, with one out in the inning, he allowed three-straight singles and Mississippi State plated their first run. UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan immediately pulled him for junior RHP Tommy Toledo, who entered with one out and runners on the corners.
Toledo gave up a RBI single up the middle to his first batter, which tied the game 2-2, before forcing a 5-3 double play to end the inning. Whitson’s day concluded with two earned runs on four hits in 6.1 innings.
Florida looked to get their lead back right away, beginning the eighth with sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-5, R) doubling off the wall in center and eventually nabbing third by taking advantage of a ball in the dirt two batters later. He was plated soon after by junior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-4, RBI), who smacked a two-out, two-strike stand-up triple to deep left-center, giving Florida a 3-2 lead.
Toledo notched the first out in the eighth and was relieved by junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde. He forced the final two outs of the inning and sent the game into the ninth, where he allowed a lead-off hit to start the inning and was pulled for Rodriguez (3-2), who gave up the homer to Vickerson on his very first pitch.
Bulldogs pitcher Caleb Reed, the team’s closer all season, earned the victory after being substituted in relief and tossing the final 5.1 innings of the game. He only allowed a single earned run on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
The Gators are now 34-10 all-time at home during NCAA play and lost for the seventh time all season when scoring first and third time when out-hitting their opponent. Florida and Mississippi State will play again Sunday at 1 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to the 2011 College World Series. The game will air live on ESPN.
Either sophomore RHP Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) or junior RHP Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) will likely get the start for UF on Sunday.