Vanderbilt swipes victory from Florida baseball, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Down one with three outs to go, the Vanderbilt Commodores (33-25) rallied to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth inning and pulled off an 8-6 win over No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (42-18) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded for Florida after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vanderbilt to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze.

Unfortunately for the Gators, it only got worse from there.

The Commodores attempted a double steal and advanced a runner to third with another being thrown out at second. Vanderbilt then hit an infield single (the runner stole second on the play) to go up 5-4 and loaded the bases following an intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk. With the bags full, the Commodores pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single followed to give Vanderbilt an 8-4 advantage and increase Florida’s suffering.

The Gators allowed more stolen bases in one frame (seven) than had ever been executed in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event.

VU scored two runs off of sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson in the top of the first and sent him off after a rough 2.1 innings. Whitson gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and no strikeouts in his outing.

Florida responded with a run in the bottom of the first and tied the game at 3-3 in the third when junior designated hitter Brian Johnson (4/5, 4 RBI) hit a two-run double to right center scoring junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, 2 R) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, 3 R).

The Gators achieved what they thought would be the game-winning run in the fourth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, RBI, BB) singled to score junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, R) and added two more runs in the ninth though the late offensive outburst was too little too late for Florida.

Though Whitson and Maddox both struggled for the Gators on the mound, Florida’s middle relief – senior RHP Greg Larson (4.0 IP, H, BB, 3 K) and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (1.2 IP, H, K) – was fantastic.

Despite UF’s struggles on Saturday, the Gators have shown signs of hitting their stride over the last two weeks. Florida has scored six or more runs in five of seven games and lost two contests by just one run.

The Gators will remain a top-ranked team on Monday when they learn of their seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament; Florida will find out whether or not they are one of 16 regional host sites for the event on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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Vanderbilt sends Florida down with 2-1 loss

The Vanderbilt Commodores topped No. 2 Florida Gators baseball 2-1 on Thursday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL, sending Florida to an elimination game on Friday as the Gators hope to advance on in the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Florida (41-17), which had a seven-game winning streak against Vanderbilt (32-25) dating back to last season snapped on Thursday, will face No. 4 South Carolina on Friday. The winner will move on to face the Commodores on Saturday, while the loser will go home and prepare for the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

After three scoreless innings , junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall struggled in the bottom of the fourth, giving up consecutive walks on eight-straight balls and allowing Vanderbilt designated hitter Riley Reynolds to hit a two-run triple to the gap in center that cleared the bases and gave the Commodores an early 2-0 lead.

UF started the contest 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base over the first six innings. The Gators finally got on the board in the top of the seventh when junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/3, R, BB) singled, advanced to third on an error from a pick-off attempt and was brought home two batters later on a sacrifice fly by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (0/3, RBI, BB).

That was the only offense Randall (5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, K, 2 BB) got from his Florida teammates as he fell to 7-2 on the season in 13 starts.

The Gators registered just four hits on the evening, were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 of 11 base runners over the course of the evening.

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FOUR BITS: Ellis, Haslem, Tebow, Leak

1 » Former Florida Gators baseball player Mark Ellis, currently a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his left leg after injuring it during the seventh inning of his team’s game on Friday. Ellis, who was upended on a takeout slide while trying to complete a fielder’s choice groundout, “was sent to the hospital, and testing showed elevated pressure in several compartments of the lower leg,” Dodgers trainer Sue Falsone told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “There was trauma to the area where everything kind of swells up, so you have to open up the fascia and basically release that pressure. They will keep an eye on it and most likely close that wound up on Tuesday.” ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted Sunday that Ellis “might have lost his leg” should the doctors have “waited another 4-5 hours to make [the] cut to relieve [the] pressure.” He has been placed on the 15-day disabled list and should return to action in his 11th MLB season. Ellis, Florida’s all-time hits leader for the last 13 years, was surpassed by senior right fielder Preston Tucker on Thursday.

2 » Former Gators power forward Udonis Haslem had his best game of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and arguably his best quarter of the season on Sunday, going 5-of-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line for 14 points (third-most on the team) to go along with four rebounds. Haslem, who went 4-for-4 from the floor in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter for the Miami Heat, suffered a gash over his right eye earlier in the game that required nine stitches following the contest. “Sometimes we need other guys to step up and tonight was my turn. Next time it might be somebody else,” he said.

3 » Considering he is a NFL player, it should come as no surprise that New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow will be in the new Madden NFL 13 video game. However, what may be interesting to some fans is that the game will also have a “Tebowing” celebration in the newest version of the popular title, according to creative director Mike Young. “Tebowing is in for #madden13,” he tweeted on Friday evening. It is unknown exactly how the move will be incorporated into the game (whether it will be an automatic celebration for Tebow’s character, a gesture that can be executed by the player or something that randomly occurs) but more information should be available once the game’s release date draws closer. Tebow was believed to be the finalist out of Denver for the Madden NFL 13 cover voting but was removed from the process after being traded.

4 » In his first game as starting QB for the AFL’s Orlando Predators, former Florida signal caller Chris Leak went 25-for-42 for 357 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Orlando lost to New Orleans 68-61 and fell to 1-8 on the season.

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Florida baseball falls to Auburn in series finale

An opportunity to capture a share of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season slipped through the grasp of No. 3 Florida Gators baseball on Saturday after a game-ending double play thwarted the Gators’ chances. Florida (40-16, 18-12 SEC) fell 5-4 to the Auburn Tigers (30-26, 13-17 SEC) in their regular season finale after winning the first two games of the weekend series played at Plainsman Park in Auburn, AL.

After shutting out Auburn 6-0 on Thursday, UF routed their hosts 10-1 on Friday in a game that featured junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (6-4) giving up just two hits and two walks while allowing one run (unearned) and striking out seven in 7.0 innings. The Gators used a trio of homers from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (3/5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) and juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) and first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) to defeat the Tigers.

Florida hoped to receive some help from their SEC rivals to make them eligible for the league title and got just that on Friday as LSU toppled South Carolina 3-2 in 10 innings to open the door for the Gators. A victory by the UF would have netted them a share of the title, but Florida fell just short of that goal after outscoring AU 16-1 in the first two games of the series.

Sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R [1 ER], 2 BB, 2 K) took the hill for the Gators on Saturday and (with some help from his offense) earned a 4-2 lead before exiting the game. Florida rallied to score three runs in the top of the second and added another in the fourth to achieve that advantage.

UF led until the bottom of the seventh when Auburn took advantage of junior LHP Steven Rodriguez, who surprisingly struggled in his relief outing. Rodriguez (3-2) gave up three earned runs on three hits while striking out two in his one inning of work.

Down one run, the Gators rallied in the top of the ninth and had runners at the corners after Tucker singled to right and Zunino doubled to left. However, Johnson flied out to right field and Tucker was thrown out at the plate to end the game.

Despite losing the game and their opportunity at a conference regular season title, Florida received three solid outings from their starters and showed renewed offensive efficiency over the weekend by scoring 20 runs over the course of the three games.

The Gators will now move on to take part in the 2012 SEC Tournament from May 22-27 in Hoover, AL.

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Tucker becomes Florida’s all-time hits leader

With a two-run homer in the top of the second inning on Thursday, Florida Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker became the team’s all-time hits leader, passing outfielder Mark Ellis (1996-99) and his 13-year-old record.

He finished the game 3/4 with two RBIs and a run and now stands at 322 hits, three more than Ellis (319) had in his four years with the Gators.

No. 3 Florida (39-15, 17-11 SEC) went ahead of the Auburn Tigers (29-25, 12-16 SEC) early and kept the pressure on throughout the contest, leaving with a 6-0 victory in the first of a three-game series that will end the 2012 regular season for both teams.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (7-1) was extremely efficient in his outing, giving up just three hits and one walk while striking out three in nine innings for a complete game shutout. He faced just 30 batters on the evening.

Tucker had some help from his teammates as the Gators’ offense saw a bit of a resurgence after struggling in recent contests. Florida registered 10 hits over the nine innings with juniors shorstop Nolan Fontana (3/4, 3 R, SB, BB) and catcher Mike Zunino (2/4, RBI) also being productive in the one- and three-hole, respectively.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Leak, Tucker, Jaguars

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte, set to be one of the primary faces/athletes representing the United States in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics was announced as the fourth male to ever grace the cover of American Vogue magazine when the June cover was released on Monday. Lochte appears on the cover alongside women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo and tennis phenom Serena Williams. The three men that were previously featured on the cover of Vogue – Richard Gere, George Clooney and LeBron James – each appeared alongside a female model “Cindy Crawford, Gisele, and Gisele again, respectively,” the magazine notes.

2 » Traded to the Orlando Predators recently after falling out of grace with the Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida quarterback Chris Leak will start his first game with his new team on Friday. Leak, who has already appeared in two games for Orlando as a backup and has amassed 78 yards and three touchdowns on 9-of-17 passing, hopes to turnaround the season for a team that has started a paltry 1-7. The Predators hope Leak can be the team’s starter for a long time and have plans for him to be a franchise player as long as he succeeds.

3 » Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker will begin his final regular season series in the orange and blue looking, in part, to set the school record for career hits. Smacking a single on Tuesday, Tucker tied former Florida outfielder Mark Ellis for the career mark with 319 hits; one more and the record is all his. UF is set to face Auburn in a three-game road series Thursday-Saturday before beginning postseason competition.

4 » As part of an outreach program that will attempt to generate “excitement and energy” for the team heading into the 2012 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be visiting Gainesville, FL with a “Jaguars Caravan” including players, coaches, cheerleaders and other team representatives, according to The Gainesville Sun. As part of the event, which will take place on June 6 at Tioga Town Center from 6-8 p.m., Gators fans will be able to see some familiar faces in former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville’s head coach), current Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and former Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor.

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FOUR BITS: transfer, Noah, baseball, Brantley

1 » The Florida Gators announced Wednesday that 6’6” center Vicky McIntyre has decided to transfer to the University of Florida and will be eligible to play in 2013-14 after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules. McIntyre, who has played at Oklahoma State the last two season and will have two years of eligibility remaining after a year off, decided to transfer after two coaches she was extremely close to perished in a plane crash in Nov. Once she steps on the court for practice, McIntyre will be the tallest player to play for Florida women’s basketball in the program’s 40-year history. “We get a kid with her size and length but now combine that with the experience she gained in [a] Big 12 program, plus the work ethic, attitude and excitement about being a Gator,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “That’s a winning combination.” McIntyre averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds during her freshman season and hopes to regain that form.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was forced to miss the final two games of his team’s first-round playoff series after severely spraining his left ankle during Game 3 and is becoming increasingly frustrated with how often he has been injured over the last two seasons. Noah said on Monday that he plans to strengthen his ankles in the offseason and do whatever he can to ensure he is in tip-top shape heading into next season. “I’m just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right,” he told ESPNChicago.com. “I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody’s ankle and landing on somebody’s foot – that could have happened to anybody. It’s frustrating but nobody died. You learn from it and move on.” Despite his most recent setback, Noah still plans to participate in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the French National Team. “I’m gunning for it. I’m hoping that I’ll be healthy and be able to play,” he said.

3 » ESPN’s Keith Law released his first mockup for the 2012 MLB Draft on Tuesday and slotted Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino as the No. 5 overall selection in the first round by Kansas City. Zunino is widely believed to be a top-five prospect and the highest-ranked college baseball player. Law has also listed juniors left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (No. 28), shortstop Nolan Fontana (No. 44) and lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez (No. 71) on his general list of top-100 players. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker, and junior righties Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox are also “potential top 200 picks,” according to ESPN’s Jason A. Churchill.

4 » The United States Social Security Administration this week released the country’s most popular baby names for the past year (2011) and noted that the name with the biggest jump in popularity for males is Brantley. From the press release: “For the boys, there could be some controversy over Brantley – depending on whether you are a fan of college football or country music. Arguments could be made that the popularity of the name comes from John Brantley, the quarterback for perennial powerhouse The University of Florida, or from Brantley Gilbert, the singer with the number one country hit ‘Country Must Be Country Wide.’ If you like both football and country music, you’re a winner either way!” Yes, that is from a real government press release.

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Samford hits three homers, blasts Florida 12-7

Ending the regular season with a four-game road trip to the state of Alabama, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball was hoping to start out hot on Tuesday and go into the postseason on a high note. Instead Florida (38-15) was routed 12-7 by the Samford Bulldogs (34-19) at Griffin Field in Birmingham, AL.

Samford took it to UF freshman right-hander Johnny Magliozzi right out of the gate, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first and tagging him for two more in the second. Magliozzi (4-3, 1.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, BB, K) easily had his worst outing of the season but was not the only Gators’ pitcher to struggle on Tuesday.

UF relievers freshman RHP Ryan Harris, sophomore RHP Keenan Kish and sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson combined to allow seven earned runs on eight hits (two home runs) and two walks with five strikeouts in 5.0 innings.

The Bulldogs added two more runs in the fourth and jumped ahead 7-0 as right fielder Brandon Miller hit his first bomb of the game. Florida outscored Samford 7-5 over the duration of the contest, which allowed the hosts to maintain a more-than-comfortable five-run advantage through the end of the game.

Miller (2/4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB, K) was just one of four Bulldogs to register two or more RBIs, while junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R) provided most of the power for the Gators’ offense by homering in his second-straight game.

Florida did experience one other bright spot on Tuesday, however, as senior right fielder Preston Tucker’s single in the top of the seventh tied the school record for career hits with 319 (Mark Ellis). Tucker finished the game 2/3 with a walk and three runs scored.

Samford evened the season series with UF 1-1 as the Gators previously picked up a 5-3 win in Gainesville, FL on March 20.

Florida will look to rebound from their upset loss by taking their frustrations out on Auburn in a three-game series beginning Thursday at 7 p.m.

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