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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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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2011 College World Series Championship Series: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 4 South Carolina – Game 1

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: 53-17 Record: 53-14
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida: Sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.24 ERA)
South Carolina: Freshman RHP Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.07 ERA)

HOME TEAMS

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

HISTORY and STREAKS

» South Carolina is 2-1 against Florida in 2011 and 38-29 all-time. USC is also 4-1 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 14-straight NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2010.
» UF and USC are both 3-0 in the CWS thus far.
» The Gators recently set the school’s single-season wins record (53).
» Florida is 8-1 in NCAA action this year with their sole loss coming on a walk-off by Mississippi State in the Super Regionals.
» 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 39-7 this year when scoring first and 43-3 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 209 more runs than their opponents this year.
» Florida is 28-0 when holding opponents to two or fewer runs and 37-1 when allowing three runs or less. The Gators are 8-15 when scoring less than three runs and 2-13 when trailing after seven innings.
» UF is 45-2 when scoring 4+ runs and 46-0 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).

INJURY REPORT

Sophomore 1B/RHP Austin Maddox (foot) – Able to pitch; hitting to be determined
Sophomore DH/LHP Brian Johnson (head) – Able to hit; pitching to be determined
South Carolina 1B Christian Walker (wrist) – Questionable

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino…a powerhouse at the plate who leads the team in batting average (.366), hits (94), homers (18), runs (73), slugging (.661)…and strikeouts (51). 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 on the season. Tucker is hitting .313 with 55 runs, 15 homers and 27 walks.
» Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana…the strongest fielder on the team who recently overcame an 0/17 slump. Fontana, as the team’s leadoff hitter, is hitting .296 with 57 runs, 49 RBI and a team-high 52 walks. He had at one point hit safely in 21-straight games.
» Maddox…who has made 20 relief appearances (26.0 innings) and has compiled a 0.69 ERA with 21 strikeouts and only three walks. He is also the team’s starting first baseman when healthy and is hitting .280 with six homers and 35 RBI.
» Junior reliever Nick Maronde (0-0, 1.93 ERA)…who has made a team-high 35 appearances this season and earned two saves in 42 innings pitched. He has amassed 54 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 .472 (17-for-36) average in NCAA play and is currently riding a career-high 13-game hitting streak. Smith is batting .325 with 40 runs, two homers, 22 RBI and 16 walks this season.
» Junior outfielder Daniel Pigott…who is hitting .412 with 10 RBI, 10 runs and a pair of walks in NCAA competition. Pigott is batting nearly 70 points higher than his season average when it matters the most.
» Walker…who is hitting .355 with 10 homers and 62 RBI this season for South Carolina. 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 18 saves on the season with a 1.91 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. Price threw during an incredibly long outing on Friday, tossing 95 pitches in 5.2 innings.
 

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Gators fight to top Commodores 6-4, advance to College World Series Championship Series

The No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores were evenly matched all season long. Though Florida held the head-to-head wins advantage, Vanderbilt made them fight for each of them and did the same on Friday, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie before the Gators (53-17) pulled away from the Commodores (54-12) and advanced to the 2011 College World Series Championship Series with a 6-4 victory after more than three hours at TD Ameritrade Park.

Florida beat Vanderbilt five of the six times that the two (of three) Southeastern Conference champions squared off in 2011 including twice in the CWS and thrice overall during the postseason. The Gators advanced to the school’s second-ever championship series, having last played for the national title in 2005.

After getting the first two outs of the game, Florida junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis allowed Vanderbilt first baseman Aaron Westlake to power a homer to right to put the Commodores ahead a run early in the game.

The Gators stranded two in the bottom of the second, and VU did the same in the top of the third, helping Panteliodis get out of a jam. UF freshman third baseman Cody Dent helped take some weight off his shoulders in the bottom of the inning, smacking a lead-off, stand-up triple to right-center.

Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana walked to put runners on the corners, and junior 1B Preston Tucker dribbled a ball down the first base line to score Dent from third even though he was tagged out.

Florida took the lead in the bottom of the fourth with a small rally. Senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-3, R, BB) and junior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-4, R) hit one-out singles to left, and Dent was walked to load the bases. Fontana, stuck in a 0-17 hitting slide, hopped the ball up the middle to score two, giving the Gators a 3-1 lead.

Sophomore right fielder Daniel Pigott kept the momentum going in the sixth, starting the inning off for Florida with a double. The bases were then loaded with no outs after Dent was walked and Fontana had a bunt bobbled; a subsequent 6-4-3 double play scored Pigott from third and put the Gators up 4-1 through six.

Before the seventh could begin, Panteliodis (6.0 IP, ER, 3 H, HBP, 3 K) was replaced by junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo. Panteliodis concluded his outing by retiring the last eight batters he faced and 11 of the final 12 Commodores who stepped to the plate. He also had three 1-2-3 innings on the afternoon including the fifth and sixth.

Toledo (0.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H) stepped in and allowed one-out and two-out singles to put runners on the corners before a single to left reduced Vanderbilt’s deficit to 4-2. With two down and runners on first and second, he was replaced by junior LHP Nick Maronde, who walked consecutive batters to load the bases and let another run cross the plate. Stuck in a pickle with the bases loaded, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to the bullpen again and brought out junior RHP Greg Larson, who immediately forced a fly out to right to end the inning.

Florida went down in order in the bottom of the inning, and O’Sullivan went to the bullpen again, bringing in sophomore LHP Steven Rodriguez. After striking out Westlake, Rodriguez gave up a single to center and a chopper up the middle to put the tying run on second and the potential winning run on first.

Trying to stop the bleeding, O’Sullivan made yet another pitching change and called upon sophomore RHP Austin Maddox, who had not pitched since May 29 after injuring his foot. Commodores third baseman Jason Esposito legged out an infield single to short to load the bases, and Maddox hit the following batter on the foot to keep the bases loaded and tie the game up 4-4.

Fontana saved more runs from scoring by diving to his left to grab a liner for the second out of the inning, and a ground out just one batter later stopped the bleeding.

The Gators got things going again in the eighth. Pigott (2-4, 2 R) led off with a single, and Florida loaded the bases on picture perfect bunts from Dent and Fontana (2-3, 2 RBI, BB) – both down the third-base line. At that point, Vanderbilt decided to pull starter Sonny Gray (12-4, 7.0 IP, 5 ER, 12 H, 5 BB, 8 K) and dip into their bullpen.

Senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-5) popped out, but Tucker (1-5, 2 RBI) followed by hitting a floater to deep left, scoring one and keeping the bases loaded. The next batter, sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (1-5), went down on strikes, but a wild pitch strike three allowed Dent (2-2, 2 R, 2 BB) to steal home, giving the Gators a 6-4 lead and continuing the inning.

Maddox returned for the final three outs of the ballgame and got the first two batters out before allowing Westlake to double to right-center, putting the game-tying run at the plate. However, just a few pitches and a fly out later, Maddox (3-0, 1.2 IP, 2 H) clinched the championship series berth for Florida.

UF will face either No. 1 Virginia or No. 4 South Carolina in the College World Series Championship Series beginning Monday at 8 p.m. Game two is set for Tuesday at 8 p.m. and game three (if necessary) for Wednesday at 8 p.m. All three contests will air live on ESPN and ESPN3.com with full coverage here on OGGOA.

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Gators open CWS by defeating Longhorns 8-4

Though power has been their trademark all season long, the No. 2 Florida Gators beat the No. 7 Texas Longhorns at their own game Saturday, using a combination of strong pitching and clutch hitting to win the second game ever played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE. The Gators (51-17) came back from a three-run deficit to beat the Longhorns (49-18) 8-4 and advance to the winner’s bracket of the 2011 College World Series.

Texas took advantage of consecutive errors by Florida to get on the board first in the third inning. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and junior first baseman Preston Tucker allowed the first two batters on after bobbling easy outs, and the Longhorns utilized a RBI single and two sacrifice flies to score a trio of unearned runs and take an early 3-0 lead.

The Gators got a similar opportunity in the bottom frame, starting off with consecutive walks. A single to right by senior center fielder Bryson Smith and a passed ball with Tucker at the plate scored freshman third baseman Cody Dent and Fontana (0-5, R), respectively, reducing UT’s advantage to a single run.

Drawing a two-out walk one inning later, sophomore left fielder Tyler Thompson moved to second on a wild pitch and scored as junior right fielder Daniel Pigott hit a double to deep right. Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, BB) was rewarded by Dent (1-3, RBI, R, BB), who smacked another two-out double down the left field line to put Florida ahead 4-3.

Smith again got things rolling for the Gators in the fifth, taking first base after getting hit by a pitch. Tucker powered a gapper to deep right-center to plate him and give his team a 5-3 lead, but not before forcing Texas starter Taylor Jungmann into his shortest outing of the season. Jungmann (13-3) left after allowing five runs (four earned) on three hits with four walks, a hit batter and a pair of wild pitches while striking out three.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (11-3), who started on the hill for Florida, was terrific throughout the evening, tossing four 1-2-3 innings (including three in a row) and retiring 13 consecutive batters at one point. He was pulled after allowing a RBI double to left in the seventh, finishing the contest having given up four runs (one earned) on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings.

The Gators answered the Longhorns immediately in the seventh. Smith walked with one out and advanced to second after Tucker (1-4, RBI, R) ran through an infield single hit after the pitcher balked. With two outs, sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson (1-4, 2 RBI) hit what should have been a three-run homer to right-center but was instead ruled a two-RBI double off the top of the wall due to the inability to utilize instant replay.

Florida would end up earning that run the next inning when, with runners on first and second, Smith (2-2, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) hit a liner to center to score Thompson (1-3, 2 R, BB) and give the Gators an 8-4 lead.

Junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson struck out the only batter he faced in the seventh, and junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde came on to toss the final two innings of the contest, striking out three batters without allowing a single hit.

With the victory, Florida improves to 41-3 this season when out-hitting their opponent, 44-2 when scoring four or more runs and 44-0 when leading after seven innings. The Gators’ 51st victory of the year ties a single-season record.

UF will face No. 6 Vanderbilt (53-10) in the winner’s bracket on Monday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. Florida is 3-1 against their Southeastern Conference Eastern division rival in 2011 with all four games played away from home.

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Tucker’s three-run blast powers Gators past Bulldogs 8-6 and into College World Series

It took a day longer than they may have liked, but No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (50-17) advanced to its second-straight College World Series on Sunday with a come-from-behind 8-6 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (38-25) in game three of the Super Regionals at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators will compete at the CWS in Omaha, NE in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history, using a three-run homer by junior right fielder Preston Tucker in the seventh to take back a lost lead and propel themselves to victory. UF hit five bombs Sunday, setting a season-high for home runs in a single game as part of their win.

Florida jumped on Mississippi State early, hitting three home runs in the first two innings and taking an early 4-0 lead. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino got things started by cranking a solo shot with two outs in the first. Junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott lined a two-run homer over the left field wall in the second and the very next batter, redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB), followed suit with the first dinger of his college career.

Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis got the start for the Gators and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced through three innings. Things fell apart for him in the fourth after he allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning. With no outs, Bulldogs second baseman Nick Vickerson tagged Panteliodis for a three-run bomb to left-center, cutting Florida’s big lead to 4-3.

Pulled after allowing the tying run on in the fifth, Panteliodis (4.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H) was substituted for with junior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson, who let the runner advance to second on a wild pitch but got out of the inning unscathed. Larson was pulled just one inning later after getting Vickerson to ground out but allowing the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base via consecutive singles.

At that point Larson (IP, 2 H, K) was replaced by junior LHP Nick Maronde (1.1 IP, ER, H, K), who got out of the sixth but left in the seventh after giving up a two-out double. Junior RHP Tommy Toledo looked to save the day but struggled mightily at first, walking the first batter on four-straight pitches and allowing Vickerson to hit a liner to right to tie the game 4-4. He then gave up a bases loaded single to left fielder Brent Brownlee, who plated two more and put Mississippi State ahead 6-4 on six unanswered runs.

The Gators started the bottom of the inning with back-to-back walks before Bulldogs closer Caleb King was called upon to get Zunino out. Zunino (2-4, HR, RBI, R) instead threw down a sacrifice bunt to place the game-tying run on second with one out. Faced with a 3-1 count, Tucker (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, R, BB) powered the ball to deep center field, hitting a go-ahead three-run homer to give Florida a 7-6 lead.

Toledo sat down all three batters he faced in the top of the eighth, sending the game into the bottom of the inning where Pigott (3-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) hit his second homer of the afternoon to put the Gators ahead 8-6 with just three outs to go. Toledo (6-3) returned for the ninth and retired the side again, forcing Vickerson to fly out to center for the final out of the game. He finished the contest with 2.1 strong innings and threw the final seven outs of the game after giving up two earned runs on two hits with two walks.

Panteliodis set a school record with his sixth NCAA Tournament start, and senior second baseman Josh Adams set another for most games played in a Florida uniform (248). With his three-run homer, Tucker joined the school’s three-man 200 RBI club (Brad Wilkerson, Matt LaPorta) and proved how dangerous he is behind Zunino.

The 65th College World Series is set to begin on June 18 with the Gators holding the No. 2 overall seed as long as top-seed Virginia advances.

 

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Gators cage Bulldogs 11-1 in Super Regional

On a scorching day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, nothing was hotter than the home team’s offense. Scoring in the first five innings of the game, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (49-16) demolished the Mississippi State Bulldogs (37-24) 11-1 in the first of the three-game Super Regional series taking place over the weekend.

Florida’s offense was not the only thing on fire Friday as sophomore left-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (10-3) was absolute dynamite on the mound, only allowing a single earned run while striking out a season-high eight batters in eight innings of work.

The Gators’ offense was potent out of the gate, plating four runs in the first. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana led off with a walk and was joined on base by senior center fielder Bryson Smith and junior right fielder Preston Tucker (0-3, R, 2 BB), who reached via a single and walk, respectively. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino capitalized with a bases loaded two-RBI double, and senior left fielder Tyler Thompson (1-5, 2 RBI) followed suit two batters later to help another pair of runs cross the plate.

Fontana (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) connected with a two-run homer to right in the second, and Zunino (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) added a solo shot on the first pitch of the third to provide Florida with an early 7-0 advantage that the team hoped to improve upon.

That is exactly what the Gators did in the fourth, as Smith hit a one-out single up the middle to plate freshman third baseman Cody Dent (1-1, RBI, 2 R, 2 BB), and senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-5, RBI) singled through the left side of the infield to score Smith (3-5, RBI, R). Florida tacked in one more run in the seventh via a solo shot by junior designated player Daniel Pigott (1-4, HR, RBI, R).

The Gators improved to 34-9 all-time at home during NCAA play and are now 37-6 when scoring first and 40-2 when out-hitting their opponent this season.

With the series-opening victory, Florida needs only one more win to advance to the 2011 College World Series for the second-straight year. It would be the first time in school history that the Gators would make an appearance in the CWS in consecutive seasons.

Game two of the Gainesville Super Regional takes place Saturday at 12 p.m. and airs live on ESPN and ESPN3.com. Game three, if necessary, will begin Sunday at 1 p.m.

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