Florida routs Manhattan 17-3 in NCAA regional

The truth is that the Manhattan Jaspers never had much of a chance on Friday, squaring off against No. 2 Florida Gators baseball in the second game of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida (46-16) scored five runs in the first inning, four in the second and seven in the third to demolish Manhattan (34-18) 17-3 in the late afternoon game and advance to the winner’s bracket.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (8-0) got the call Friday and delivered in spades, striking out three and only allowing two hits in 3.1 innings. He was pulled early simply because of the advantage UF held after three innings.

The Gators’ offense supported him early and often, posting a five-spot in the bottom of the first inning to kick things off. Sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (2-6, RBI, R) led off the inning with a single and was moved over to second when senior center fielder Bryson Smith (2-4, 2 RBI, 3 R) was hit by a pitch; junior right fielder Preston Tucker singled home Fontana and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino plated Smith.

An infield single and subsequent error gave junior left fielder Tyler Thompson a spot on second and scored both Tucker and Zunino; Thompson (4-4, RBI, 3 R, BB) crossed the plate shortly after when junior designated hitter Daniel Pigott smacked a single to left.

Florida added four more runs the next inning, beginning with three via back-to-back home runs. Tucker launched a two-run shot to right-center, and Zunino (3-4, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R) followed him by hitting his ball to almost the exact same spot. Pigott (4-5, 3 RBI, R) earned another RBI a few batters later, singling to right field and sending senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-5, 2 R) home to give the Gators a 9-0 lead.

Tucker (3-6, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R) did what he could to keep the momentum going, smacking another two-run homer in the third. Florida led 11-0 at that point but added five more runs in the inning to hold a 16-0 advantage through three. Sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox was pulled in the top half of the inning after spraining his foot. His availability going forward is currently unknown.

Manhattan’s starter, John Soldinger, left the bases loaded with no one out upon exiting in the top of the third. He tossed two innings and surrendered an astonishing 15 earned runs on 16 hits with three homers, two walks, two hit batters and one strikeout.

Replacing Whitson, freshman RHP Keenan Kish was looking solid until the fifth inning when he gave up four hits and allowed three unearned runs, reducing the Jaspers’ deficit to 16-3. The Gators rallied to add another run in the seventh, which marked the end of Kish’s career-long outing of 3.2 innings. He struck out three and walked one.

With the victory, Florida moves on to the winner’s bracket to face Miami (37-21) on Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. The winner will advance to the finals of the Gainesville Regional, while the loser will face the victor of the elimination game between Jacksonville-Manhattan at noon to determine who will take the other spot in the finals.

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Florida baseball blanks Vanderbilt 5-0 to win first SEC Tournament championship since 1991

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

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Georgia tops Florida 4-3, forces elimination game

In a strange game that included their starting pitcher being knocked out in the first inning, No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (43-16) was forced into an elimination game in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament after dropping a close 4-3 decision to the Georgia Bulldogs (31-29) in the semifinal round of the event.

The top of the first was a tough inning for Florida, which saw sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson get taken off on a stretcher after giving up two earned runs. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino, who got his leg tangled with the batter while attempting to pick off a runner trying to steal second, stumbled and instead threw the ball into the back of the head of a crouching Johnson.

Johnson (0.2 IP, ER, 2 H, 2 K) was promptly brought to the hospital and deemed alert and responsive though he did have a headache and continued to undergo further tests. He was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding) and returned to the team hotel well before the game concluded.

Junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani replaced Johnson on the mound, and junior Tyler Thompson was chosen to take his place in the lineup at designated hitter.

The Gators got out of the top portion of the inning and tied the game up in the bottom frame. With sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-2, R, BB) and junior second baseman Preston Tucker (0-3, R, BB, SB) on base via walks, Thompson (1-4, 2 RBI) doubled to center to plate both men and erase his team’s deficit.

Georgia re-took the lead in the third, when three consecutive singles scored a run and a sacrifice fly by the next batter plated another to put the Bulldogs up 4-2. Florida responded in the fourth when senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-3, BB) reached on a throwing error allowing junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-4, R, SB) to score from third and the Gators to get within one.

Florida was never able to score the tying run, allowing the Georgia to claim the win.

DeSclafani, who stayed on and pitched the vast majority of the game in Johnson’s stead, put forth a superb effort for Florida. He struck out four, gave up six hits and allowed just two earned runs in 7.2 innings of relief work.

The Gators and Bulldogs will square off in an elimination game Saturday night with the victor facing Vanderbilt in the championship on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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Johnson’s grand slam powers Florida over MSU

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.

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Mike Zunino named 2011 SEC Player of the Year; seven teammates awarded All-SEC honors

The team’s leader in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage, Florida Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino was named the 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches on Tuesday.

He is the second University of Florida baseball player to ever win the award. Former Gators first baseman Matt LaPorta captured the honor in 2005 and 2007.

A terror at the plate for Florida all season, Zunino leads the conference in home runs (15), RBI (59), runs scored (62) and total bases (141); he is second in the SEC in batting average (.383, -.002) and slugging percentage (.701, -.008). Zunino is also tied for third in doubles (19), places fifth in on-base percentage (.455) and is tied for sixth in hits (77).

He was named to the 2011 All-SEC First Team alongside teammates junior outfielder Preston Tucker and sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson. Also on the team are Vanderbilt’s Aaron Westlake, Tony Kemp and Grayson Garvin; South Carolina’s Scott Wingo, Michael Roth and Matt Price; Kentucky’s Casey McElroy; LSU’s Mikie Mahtook; and Auburn’s Casey McElroy.

His Gators teammates – senior second baseman Josh Adams, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall – were placed on the All-SEC Second Team. RHP Karsten Whitson and third baseman Zack Powers were honored on the 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team, and both Zunino and Fontana earned spots on the 2011 SEC All-Defensive Team.

It is the first time in UF history that student-athletes representing the school have won SEC Player of the Year in baseball and softball (senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder). Florida now has 11 SEC Players of the Year for 2010-11 also including Chandler Parsons (men’s basketball), Bank Vongvanij (men’s golf), Christian Taylor (men’s indoor track & field), Will Claye (men’s outdoor track & field), Conor Dwyer (men’s swimming), Monica Dodson (women’s diving), Kathryn Williamson (women’s soccer), Allie Will (women’s tennis) and Kelly Murphy (volleyball). Gators lacrosse’s Kitty Cullen also won ALC Player of the Year.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner/Icon SMI

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Gators baseball rebounds to rout Wildcats 19-3, captures share of SEC regular season title

One day after blowing an opportunity to control sole possession of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (41-15, 22-8 SEC) earned a share of the league title by toppling the Kentucky Wildcats (25-30, 8-22 SEC) 19-3 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday afternoon.

Alone atop the SEC standings on Friday, Florida allowed Kentucky to score early and often, eventually falling 14-1. No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 Vanderbilt, both of which lost their series openers on Thursday, claimed victories Friday to reestablish a three-way tie for first-place in the conference. Both teams also won Saturday, giving the SEC a set of tri-champions for the 2011 regular season.

The Gators’ victory Saturday marked just the second time in program history that Florida has won back-to-back conference titles (1981-82). The program now has 12 overall league titles and three-consecutive East Division championships.

The Wildcats scored first Saturday, plating a run with three consecutive hits in the first inning. The Gators responded in the bottom of the second as their lead-off batter, sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson, connected for a homer on a 1-2 count to tie the game. Florida jumped ahead for good in the third, rallying for a pair of runs to take a 3-1 lead. Senior second baseman Josh Adams scored sophomore catcher Mike Zunino via a ground out, and Johnson followed by knocking home junior right fielder Preston Tucker with a single up the middle.

With freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (7-0) holding Kentucky to its single run, the Gators exploded with seven scores in the bottom of the fourth. Men were on second and third with one out when Zunino singled to right to score the first run of the inning. Tucker followed with an RBI single to left, and Adams doubled down the left field line to score another baseman. Johnson’s (3-4, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) two-RBI single to center brought Adams and Tucker home, and a two-run homer by sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox cleared the bases for Florida, which ended up leaving two on base before Kentucky could get out of the inning.

The Gators kept the pressure on in the fifth as Zunino opened the inning with a double to left; he scored two batters later when Adams singled to left. A wild pitch advanced Adams to second and Tucker to third, respectively, sending Maddox up to the plate to connect on a three-run homer, his second deep shot of the afternoon.

Whitson (5.0 IP, ER, 7 H, 4 K) was pulled for junior RHP Tommy Toledo to start the sixth. Florida ensured his victory would be realized by adding another pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. Zunino (4-4, RBI, 4 R, BB) singled with two outs to get on base, Tucker (5-6, 2 RBI, 5 R) doubled him home, and Adams (3-6, 4 RBI, 2 R) made sure Tucker crossed the plate with a single to center during his at bat.

The Gators added three more in the eighth; Maddox’s (3-6, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R) ground out RBI scored freshman pinch runner Keenan Kish, junior pinch hitter Tyler Thompson’s two-out single to left scored Tucker, and redshirt sophomore pinch hitter Vickash Ramjit’s subsequent single scored junior pinch hitter Ben McMahan.

Florida, which allowed Kentucky to score two runs of errors in the top of the ninth before ending the game, also earned the No. 3 seed in the 2011 SEC Tournament with their victory. The Gators combined for 25 hits on the afternoon, their most against any opponent this season. Florida will face No. 6-seed Mississippi State in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday in the second match-up at their site.

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TWO BITS: baseball tops UNF, Davis to decide

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-12) led from the start of the game Thursday and never gave up their advantage while on the way to a 4-1 victory over the North Florida Ospreys (25-22) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis (4-1) pitched three shutout innings, striking out one and leaving the game with a 2-0 lead that earned him the victory. Six pitchers relieved him in total; senior right-handed pitcher Matt Campbell came on with two outs in the ninth to pick up his first save of the season. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-3, 2 RBI, R) knocked home Gators in the first and third inning, while a two-run homer from sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R) helped Florida jump ahead 4-1 in the sixth. UF travels to Vanderbilt for a three-game weekend series beginning with Friday’s contest, set to air live on CSS at 7 p.m.

2 » Rated as the top linebacker in the country and No. 30 overall recruit available in 2012 by Rivals.com, four-star Noor Davis (The Villages, FL) is set to announce his commitment on Friday with the Gators standing as one of five schools vying for his services. Davis named a top five of Notre Dame, Florida, Stanford, Alabama and USC earlier this week and is ready to get the process over with. He talked at length about all five schools with the website’s Chris Nee and said the following about the Gators:

“The University of Florida has outstanding academic programs and great athletics. They have an awesome business school and communications department. Coach [Will] Muschamp said that I could fit in an impactful way playing the SAM linebacker spot. In the 3-4 I would be down on the line and in the 4-3 I would be back in a stack position. They feel that I can do a lot of things off the edge as a pass rusher, but also as a flat coverage guy. I can do a lot of different things that can throw an offense off. They play in the SEC which is a great conference. Florida is an outstanding school and it is very close to where I live. The place where I live is pretty big Gator Country and all of my friends and neighbors are fans. My parents and especially my little brother could be a part of my college experience.”

Qualities of the other schools that impressed him: Notre Dame (religious aspect, tradition, academics and powerful alumni), Stanford (academics, aggressive defense, playing baseball), Alabama (“an icon,” 3-4 defense, business program), USC (“powerhouse” program, aunt attended, family in the area, California).

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Florida softball sweeps Tennessee, wins SEC East; baseball falls to Arkansas in road series

It was a special weekend for Florida Gators softball, which sent its seniors off with a two-day celebration concluding in the team’s fourth-straight Southeastern Conference East division title. The baseball team, on the other hand, fought through a three-game road series that left their chances at a regular season title up for grabs.

SOFTBALL

Just two days after a hard-fought 1-0 victory at home against Florida State, No. 4 Florida softball was just as scrappy against the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers on Friday, breaking a 3-3 tie with a solo home run from lead-off hitter freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the seventh inning to earn a 4-3 victory. Senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher drew the start for the Gators but was pulled after giving up three earned runs and only striking out two batters in 4.2 innings. Florida was down 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth but rallied with two outs to tie the game. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers came on for the final 2.1 innings, striking out four and only allowing a single hit to earn the victory.

The Gators took advantage of the Volunteers early in Saturday’s game and held on to a two-run lead earned in the first frame to win the series with a 2-0 victory. With one out, senior second baseman Aja Paculba (2-3, R) singled to left field; senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) followed her by stepping up to the plate and smacking a homer to center field on a full count for the game’s only runs. Brombacher (3.1 IP, 2 K, 3 H) once again earned the start for Florida, but Rogers (3.2 IP, 4 K, 3 H) threw the second half of the contest to earn her second win over Tennessee. Saturday also marked the first half of UF softball’s Senior Day. Brombacher and catcher Tiffany DeFelice were honored prior to the game, which resulted in the team’s 24th shutout win on the year.

Putting everything together on Sunday, the Gators (47-8, 21-7 SEC) started hot out of the gate and routed the Volunteers (44-10, 20-8 SEC) 7-2 to conclude regular season action with nine-straight victories while simultaneously capturing the SEC East division title. Rogers (30-5) tossed a complete game, allowing single runs in the first and fifth innings on a total of five hits. Down 1-0 after the first three outs, Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the first and added another in the second. The Gators then poured on four runs in the fourth including a lead-off dinger from designated player Kelsey Horton (2-3, HR, RBI, R) on the first pitch she saw. Also performing well Sunday were junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2-4, 2 R), Paculba (2-3, RBI, 2 R, BB), Bruder (1-3, RBI, R, BB) and sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte (2-4, 2 RBI, R). Florida honored Bruder, Paculba and first baseman Megan Bush before the game as the second half of the school’s senior day festivities. The day ended with the Gators not only capturing their fourth-straight SEC East crown (fifth overall) but also having won 17 of their last 18 games.

With their regular season now complete, UF has earend the No. 2 overall seed in the 2011 SEC tournament, which they will begin on Thursday with a first-round game against No. 7-seed Auburn. The game will air live on ESPNU at 1:30 p.m.

BASEBALL

No. 4 Florida baseball saw its dominant seven-game winning streak come to an end Thursday in Fayetteville, AR as they blew a 3-1 lead through six innings to fall 4-3 to the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks. After scattering hits through his first five innings, starter sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (8-2) allowed a triple and home run in back-to-back at-bats in the bottom of the sixth that let Arkansas tie the game at three runs apiece. Randall gave up his second homer of the game two innings later, and the Razorbacks escaped the first game of the series with a victory. Three Gators – junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, R), senior 2B Josh Adams (2-3, R) and junior LF Daniel Pigott (2-2, RBI) – notched pairs of hits in the contest, but the team simply could not capitalize when it counted.

Florida fought from behind all night on Friday and eventually fell to Arkansas 5-3, dropping the road series after the first two games. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (7-2) lost his second game of the season after allowing three earned runs (four total) in just four innings of work. The Gators trailed from the first inning on, taking their only lead at 2-1 in the third before the Razorbacks scored three runs in the bottom of the inning to jump back ahead 4-2.

Florida (36-12, 18-6 SEC) got back to its winning ways on Saturday, rallying for three runs in the top of the seventh inning to slay Arkansas (32-15, 12-12 SEC) 5-3; it was the Gators’ first road win against the Razorbacks since 2005 (eight games). Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (5.2 IP, 6 K, 3 ER, 6 H) shut out Arkansas through the first four innings of the game and allowed Florida to take an early 2-0 lead. The Razorbacks would respond with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth, but sophomore RHP Austin Maddox came in to get the final out and stop the bleeding for the Gators. Florida responded with a fierce rally that scored three in the seventh. Three-straight singles ending with one from Tucker (1-4, RBI, R) scored sophomore SS Nolan Fontana (2-5, RBI, 2 R) from third to tie the game and another up the middle by Pigott (2-4, 2 RBI, R) allowed two more runs to cross the plate for the Gators. Maddox (2-0) tossed the final three innings, striking out one and walking one as Florida held on for the victory.

The Gators remain in the hunt for the SEC title but have two more series (on the road against Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky) to play along with two non-conference games (home vs. North Florida and Jacksonville) before the regular season concludes. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with a 19-5 record, but Florida and South Carolina are both just a game back at 18-6.

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