Down 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Florida Gators sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and smacked a grand slam to right to propel his team to an eventual 7-5 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first round of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
No. 2 Florida (42-15) got on the board in the bottom of the first, tacking on a run when junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, 2 RBI, R, BB) doubled to center on a full count to score sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-1, RBI, R, 3 BB). Mississippi State (34-22) jumped ahead 2-1 in the third, but the Gators responded when Fontana was walked with the bases loaded in the fourth to plate senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, RBI, R) and tie the game 2-2.
The Bulldogs followed by scoring three unanswered runs including a solo homer from Nick Vickerson (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) in the top of the sixth and two more on a fielder’s choice and wild pitch in the seventh.
In a hole, Florida got its first three batters on base in the bottom of the inning. Senior center fielder Bryson Smith (0-4, R) was hit by a pitch, Tucker forced a walk and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-5, R) singled to center to setup Johnson’s (1-4, GS, 4 RBI, R) game-changer. Already up 6-5, the Gators added another run in the eighth when Tucker scored Dent (1-2, R, 2 BB) with an RBI single to left field.
Junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo (2.2 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 6 K, 2 BB) got the start for UF but picked up a no decision. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (3-1) threw a hitless 1.2 innings in relief and earned his third win; sophomore RHP Austin Maddox (S4) came on in the ninth to get the final three outs and secure the victory.
No. 3-seed Florida will take on No. 7-seed Alabama in winner’s bracket action on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Gators swept the season series 3-0.