Hoping to end the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament on a high note, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball took on the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores in the winner-takes-all championship game on Sunday afternoon at Regions Park. Behind a terrific performance by junior left-handed starter Alex Panteliodis (5-2), the Gators (45-16) fought their way to a 5-0 shutout victory over the Commodores (47-10) to capture the team’s first SEC Tournament title since 1991.
Florida struck first in the bottom of the second, utilizing a pair of throwing errors to plate the first run of the game. Redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, and an infield single by junior left fielder Daniel Pigott followed by a bad throw by Vanderbilt’s shortstop advanced him all the way to third.
Sophomore third baseman Cody Dent followed with a sacrifice bunt, but a throwing error by the Commodores’ first baseman allowed him to reach and let Ramjit (1-3, R, BB) cross the plate. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana, the next batter, hit a ground out to score Pigott from third and put the Gators ahead 2-0 through two innings.
With the score unchanged, Panteliodis reached his pitch count and was lifted after striking out five, allowing five hits and giving up one walk in 5.1 superb innings. He also got Florida out of a number of jams they faced, stranding multiple Vanderbilt base runners, many of whom were threatening the Gators in scoring position.
Looking to increase their lead in the bottom of the seventh, Florida found themselves with one out and men on first and third with junior right fielder Preston Tucker at the plate. Tucker (0-3, RBI) fouled out to deep right, giving the Gators a 3-0 lead as Fontana (1-4, RBI, R, BB) came home from third.
Junior LHP Nick Maronde, in as the second reliever, recorded a one-two-three inning in the eighth, forcing the Commodores to fly out thrice. Florida had their offense clicking again in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases with no outs recorded. After a pitching change, Pigott (2-3, RBI, R, SB) was hit by a pitch and Dent (1-2, 2 RBI, BB) was walked, increasing Florida’s lead to 5-0 as senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, R) and sophomore designated hitter Austin Maddox (1-4, R) came around to score.
The Gators headed into the top of the ninth bringing Maddox in to close, three outs away from capturing the title. After allowing the lead-off hitter to crank a double to left field, Maddox got back-to-back batters out but gave up a single left to find himself with men on first and third. He then forced the final batter into a pop out, earning his sixth save of the season in the process.
Florida, which will host a regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL, now awaits their seeding in the event. The Gators’ SEC Tournament victory may have earned them the No. 1 overall seed. Seedings for the 64-team tournament will be announced Monday live on ESPN at 12:30 p.m.
2011 SEC Tournament Honors
Most Valuable Player: LF Daniel Pigott, Florida
All-Tournament Team: Pigott; P Hudson Randall, Florida; SS Nolan Fontana, Florida
Photo Credit: Southeastern Conference