Florida Gators baseball wins 2015 SEC Tournament, earns No. 4 seed in NCAA Tournament

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.

Photo Credit: AL.com

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Takeaways: Pitching, freshmen keep Florida Gators baseball steady through SEC opener

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer

Over the last two weeks, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (18-3, 2-1 SEC) split a home-and-home series, cleaned up at home against two non-conference opponents and won its first Southeastern Conference series of the season.

Florida came up short in its first major road test of the season, falling 4-3 to the No. 14 UCF Knights in Orlando on March 4, though the Gators regrouped and won the rematch 10-2 in Gainesville the following evening. Florida then went on to sweep the Maine Black Bears in its final non-conference weekend series (5-0, 6-1, 5-3) and avoided any midweek letdown with a pair of wins against the Fairfield Stags (8-7, 6-1).

The Tennessee Volunteers dominated Florida for eight innings in the Gators’ SEC home opener and eventually claimed a 6-3 win, but UF captured the series with a 8-3 victory on Saturday and 9-4 rubber-match win on Sunday.

Here are five takeaways from the last two weeks:

1. Lefty longmen provide a big boost: Much has been said of the Gators’ strong weekend rotation, but Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has made great use of the versatility offered by his southpaws including senior Bobby Poyner (0-1, 3.13) and junior Danny Young (1-0, 0.63). On Saturday against Tennessee, Poyner (4.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) relieved sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (5.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB, 8 K) in the sixth and stayed on for the remaining four frames to collect his second save of the season. Young (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 7 K) notched a career-high seven strikeouts in five dominant innings of long relief to earn the win in UF’s win over UT on Sunday. Poyner and Young’s ability to go the distance at any time in a game should help O’Sullivan keep his bullpen arms fresh this season.

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Florida baseball tops Mississippi State 5-1, advances to SEC Tournament semifinals

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Avoiding elimination for the second-straight day, No. 1 seed Florida Gators baseball (39-20) remains alive in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Tournament after pulling off a 5-1 victory over the No. 5 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (37-22) at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama.

Florida advanced to the semifinal round of the event, which is now single elimination for all remaining participants, and will take on No. 9 seed Kentucky in the late game on Saturday. UK is 3-1 vs. UF in 2014 and sent the Gators into the losers bracket of the SEC Tournament with a 4-2 win on Wednesday.

Unable to field a chopper hit by Florida freshman designated hitter Peter Alonso (1/3, 2 RBI, R) with the bases loaded, Mississippi State shortstop Seth Heck was charged with an error as UF jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage in the second inning.

The Gators never pieced together a big inning to bury the Bulldogs, stranding 10 runners on base during the contest, but they were able to tack on insurance runs throughout the night.

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Florida baseball rolls over Georgia for sweep

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

It may have started with a one-run squeaker, but No. 18 Florida Gators baseball (27-13, 12-6 SEC) battered the Georgia Bulldogs (21-18-1, 7-10-1) over the weekend to secure its second-straight home series sweep and extend its overall active winning streak to six games.

The Florida-Georgia series opener set for Friday was rained out, forcing the teams to complete all three games in a span of approximately 24 hours. The Gators took down the Bulldogs 3-2 and 8-1 in a Saturday doubleheader before completing the sweep 10-3 on Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida powered past Georgia in large part due to its bullpen, which was unfazed by the lack of rest and only allow one run over 11.2 innings.

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Benches clear as Florida baseball tops No. 1 FSU

Florida Gators baseball has been up-and-down this season but pulled off its second-straight victory over the top team in the nation on Tuesday when it fought through a bench-clearing scuffle and took down the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles 4-1 at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL.

Florida, which also beat Florida State 3-1 in Gainesville, FL last Tuesday, clinched the regular-season series over its in-state rival. The Gators (16-9) and Seminoles (19-5) will play the last contest in their three-game series in Tallahassee, FL on April 8.

It did not take long for UF to get on the board as junior second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/2, R, 2 BB) walked to open the bottom of the first and scored four batters later when junior first baseman Braden Mattson singled to right field.

The Gators boosted their advantage with two more runs in the sixth. Mattson (2/4, RBI, R, SB) singled to open the frame, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a throwing error by pitcher Peter Miller, who corralled a sacrifice bunt from junior right-handed starter and designated hitter Justin Shafer but let it get away on a throw to first. Shafer scored unearned as freshman third baseman John Sternagel reached on a fielder’s choice with one out, and UF ended the inning leading 3-0.

Things got testy in Jacksonville two innings later when FSU left fielder D.J. Stewart hit a dribbler down the first-base line and collided with Florida sophomore lefty reliever Danny Young, who tried to field the ball in the base path but dropped it before Stewart arrived. UF junior 1B Zach Powers took offense to Stewart’s trucking of Young and met him chest-to-chest beyond the bag. Stewart responded by shoving Powers, and the benches cleared with both teams pushing and shoving.

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Florida baseball back to .500 as bats go cold

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Playing an extended weekend schedule that likely felt like postseason play, Florida Gators baseball has likely come to the realization that seeing its season go beyond 56 games will be a difficult task going forward.

Florida (6-6), which hosted a double round-robin tournament featuring the Illinois Illini (6-6) and FGCU Eagles (6-4) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL from Thursday-Sunday, came away from the event winning just one of four games.

The event opened with a pitching duel between Gators freshman right-handed pitcher Logan Shore and Eagles righty Michael Murray. Shore (6.0 IP, 6 H, 7 K) had a strong outing but unluckily got the call to be on the mound during a contest in which his teammates were struggling mightily both at the plate and on the field.

Florida committed a season-high four errors, allowing two unearned runs to score, and failed to provide Shore with any run support. UF had its best shot to tie game in the bottom of the eighth with one out and runners on second and third but only managed one run – a two-out RBI single from freshman catcher Braden Mattson (1/3, RBI) – to fall 2-1 in the opener.

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Florida baseball drops two of three at Miami

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 20 Florida Gators baseball (5-3) fell short on the road against the No. 17 Miami Hurricanes (4-3) over the weekend, dropping the annual three-game series between the in-state rivals but ultimately avoiding a sweep on Sunday at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables, FL.

The Gators opened things up Friday night with their second loss of the season, dropping the season opener 6-4 despite scoring three runs in the first inning.

Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (4.0 IP, 5 H, BB, 3 K) took the loss for Florida, struggling after retiring the side in order and leaving the first inning with a three-run lead. Poyner (1-1) threw 71 pitches in the 6-4 loss and gave up home runs to Miami right fielder Willie Abreu in the third and center fielder Dale Carey in the fifth.

“We just have to get a better start out of our starting pitcher,” remarked head coach Kevin O’Sullivan after the loss.

Inside the batter’s box, junior catcher Taylor Gushue (4/4, RBI, 2 R) extended his hitting streak to six games. The four-hit game by Gushue was a career-best.

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Florida baseball wins season-opening series

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Winning their season-opening series could have been easier for the No. 20/23 Florida Gators, but coming out of the weekend with a 2-1 record was nevertheless a good start for a young squad that fought to the finish over the last three days.

Florida bookended the weekend with victories over the Maryland Terrapins (1-2) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, kicking things off with a 4-0 shutout Friday on opening night in the only game of the series that was televised.

Junior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K) delivered a solid outing as the opening night starter. Primarily used as a reliever and midweek starter during his first two seasons with the Gators, the third-year lefty made his case for a rotation spot this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, posting a 1.71 ERA over seven starts with the Orleans Fire. His five strikeouts Friday were a career-high, and Florida’s offense did a good job making him feel comfortable with some early runs.

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