Florida Blanks Vandy, Wins SEC Tournament

No. 3 seed Florida Gators (45-16) defeated No. 4 seed Vanderbilt Commodores (47-10) 5-0 at Regions Park in Hoover, AL for the SEC Tournament Championship.

LHP Alex Panteliodis (5-2) pitched 5.1 shutout innings allowing five hits, one walk, and five strike outs.  The losing pitcher was Commodore starter Taylor Hill (4-1) who allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. RHP Austin Maddox recorded his fifth save of the 2011 campaign.

Vanderbilt threatened early after Tony Kemp (LF) landed on base after being plunked by Panteliodis and Anthony Gomez (SS) singled into center field. With two on and no outs, Aaron Westlake (1b) flied out to shallow left center field, holding the runners at first and second.  Curt Casali (C) struck out swinging, but Kemp and Gomez were able to steal second and third with two outs. Panteliodis struck out Mike Yastrzemski (RF) to get out of the jam to end the frame.  Nolan Fontana (SS) led off the bottom of the first with an infield single just beating the throw and advanced to second on a base hit to left field by Bryson Smith (CF). Preston Tucker (RF) grounded out advancing the base runners, but Mike Zunino (C) struck out looking, and Josh Adams (2b) flied out to the warning track in center field ending the opening inning scoreless.

Back-to-back ground outs by Jason Esposito (3b) and Conrad Gregor (DH) gave the Commodores two early outs in the top of the second before Connor Harrell (CF) doubled into the gap in center field.  With a runner in scoring position Riley Reynolds (2b) grounded out to second to end the Vanderbilt half of the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Austin Maddox (DH) hit right back to Hill for the first out and Vickash Ramjit (1b) was issued a walk before advancing a base on a single by Daniel Pigott (LF), and advancing to third on the throw. With runners on the corners, Cody Dent (3b) bunted safely down the first baseline, scoring Ramjit, and advancing to second on a fielding error by Westlake.  With one out and both runners in scoring position Fontana grounded out to second sending Pigott across the plate, and Smith bunted to Esposito to end the inning with the 2-0 Florida lead.

In the top of the third Kemp grounded out to second before Gomez singled to third and advanced a base on a wild pitch. Westlake flied out to center, holding Gomez at second followed by Casali getting a free pass by Panteliodis. With two on two out Yastrzemski struck out swinging to end the stanza. Tucker led off with a foul out to Esposito followed by Zunino striking out for two quick outs in the bottom of the inning. Adams doubled to the gap in right center field and Maddox ended the inning with a strike out.

After Esposito flied out to right field, Gregor singled into center field to start the fourth inning. Harrell struck out swinging and Reynolds hit a two out single up the middle.  Gregor and Reynolds advanced into scoring position on a passed ball with Kemp at the plate. The SEC Freshman of the Year struck out for the third Commodore out.  In the bottom of the fourth Ramjit struck out followed by a single through the middle by Pigott. Dent fouled out to Kemp and Pigott stole second and Fontana was issued a walk before Smith struck out to end the inning with Florida still holding on to a two run lead.

Both pitchers retired the side is order in the fifth as Panteliodis set down Gomez with a grounded out, Westlake popped out and Casali with a grounded out.  Hill forced Tucker to pop out, struck out Zunino and Adams flied out to center field.

In the top of the sixth, Yastrzemski flied out to center before Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan moved to the bull pen, after a scoreless outing by Panteliodis.  With RHP Greg Larson now on the mound, Esposito singled to the pitcher but was out as Gregor hit into a 6-4-3 double play. Hill set down the side for consecutive innings dealing back-to-back strike outs to Maddox and Ramjit, and forcing Pigott to fly out to right field to end the sixth.

Harrell fought off an inside pitch for a lead off base hit, and O’Sullivan opted to put lefty Nick Maronde on the hill replacing Larson who faced three batters. Harrell stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Reynolds. Kemp struck out and Gomez grounded out to third, bringing the total of runners left by Vanderbilt to seven through seven innings. Dent led off with a single to center field, but was forced out at second as Fontana reached on the fielder’s choice. Fontana advanced to third on a base hit to left field by Smith and scored when Tucker fouled out to right field. Zunino ended the inning with a pop out to third base and the Gators leading 3-0.

Maronde retired the side with consecutive fly outs by Westlake, Casali, and Yastrzemski in the eighth inning. Vanderbilt replaced Hill with RHP Will Clinard who allowed back-to-back singles by Adams and Maddox in the Gators’ half. Ramjit safely bunted to the gap between third and short stop before Derek Johnson, the Commodores’ pitching coach made his way to the mound.  With the bases loaded and no one out, RHP Jack Armstrong hit Pigott in the number 8 on his back, sending Adams across the plate. Armstrong issued Dent a walk that scored Maddox and sent Johnson to the mound for another Vanderbilt pitching change. RHP Mark Lamm took over with the bases loaded and Fontana reached on a  fielder’s choice that put Ramjit out at home plate, and forced Smith to hit into a double play ending the inning 5-0 Florida.

With Maddox on the mound to close out the game for the Gators, Esposito led off with a double off the left field wall. Gregor lined out to Fontana, and Harrell struck out swinging. Down to their last out, and one on, Reynolds singled through the left side, advancing Esposito to third. Reynolds stole second, but Kemp flied out to shallow center field ending the game and giving the Gators their first SEC Tournament Championship since 1991.

The selection show for the NCAA Regionals takes place Sunday at 12:30 ET on ESPN. Gainesville was announced during the game as one of 16 named a regional site for the 65th annual NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The SEC has three sites Florida, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina.

Dory LeBlanc is a contributing author at GatorsFirst.com and BourbonMeyer.com.  For more thoughts on the Florida  Gators (and more) follow Dory LeBlanc on Twitter (@Dory_LeBlanc).

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