Johnson Grand Slam Propels Florida over Miss State in SEC Tourney Opening Round

The SEC Baseball Tournament began Wednesday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL with the No. 7 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (33-24) upsetting the No. 2 see Arkansas Razorbacks (36-19) 7-4.  In the second game of the day, the No. 3 seed Florida Gators (42-15) defeated the No. 6 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (34-22) 7-5. The remainder of the matchups of the opening round will be No. 8 seed Auburn Tigers (29-27) vs. No. 1 seed South Carolina (44-12) in game 3, and No. 5 seed Georgia Bulldogs (28-28) vs. No. 4 seed Vanderbilt Commodores (44-9) in game 4.

Tommy Toledo (3-3) started on the mound for the Gators, while Evan Mitchell (5-1) got the nod for the Bulldogs. Toledo allowed two earned runs on two hits, struckout six, but walked two and had two HBP in 2.2 IP. In the five innings Mitchell pitched, he allowed two earned runs on five hits, with five strikeouts and four walks. Neither righty was the pitcher on record as LHP Steven Rodriguez (3-1) picked up the win, Austin Maddox (2-0) the save (4), and Luis Pollorena (6-5) the loss.

Toledo began the game with issuing a lead off walk to CT Bradford (CF), who stole second when Josh Adams (2b) couldn’t hang on to the throw by Mike Zunino (C). Cody Freeman (DH) struck out swinging, but Jarrod Parks was given the second free pass of the inning. With runners at first and second Toledo had back-to-back strikeouts to Jaron Shepherd (RF) and Nick Vickerson (2b) to end the opening stanza. Nolan Fontana (SS) started the bottom of the first with a lead off walk, followed by Bryson Smith (CF) who struck out looking. Fontana took off running early, and Preston Tucker (RF) drove him home with a double to center field for the early Gator lead. Zunino hit the first pitch back to the mound, but the pitcher couldn’t hang on to it as he tried to get the unassisted out, and was charged an error but Brian Johnson (DH) grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning 1-0 Florida.

In the top of the second, Ryan Collins (1b) flied out to center field, and Brent Brownlee (LF) ended up at first after being plunked by Toledo, but for the second consecutive inning, he ended the half with back-to-back strikeouts to Jonathan Ogden (SS) and Wes Thigpen (C). Adams led of the bottom of the inning with a called strikeout on an inside fastball followed by a basehit to right field by  Austin Maddox (1b) who advanced to second on a wild pitch. The early pitching duel continued as Mitchell ended the second with back-to-back strikeouts to Tyler Thompson (LF)and Cody Dent (3b).

Bradford led off the third inning with a basehit to the left side and advanced a base on a sacrifice bunt by Freeman. Toledo hit his second batter of the game, Parks, who got a quick check by the Bulldog staff, and remained in the game. Shepherd struck out, and with two on and two out Vickerson tripled to deep center field, scoring Bradford and Parks. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan replaced Toledo with lefty Nick Maronde who forced Collins to fly out to center to end the side. For the second time in the game, Fontana led off with a walk and advanced on a groundout to third by Smith. Tucker popped up to Ogden in shallow center field and Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year, struckout to end the stanza with Mississippi State ahead 2-1.

Brownlee flied out to center field to open the fourth, followed by Ogden who singled through the left side. Thigpen struckout for the second time of the afternoon and Bradford grounded out to second base for the third out. In the bottom of the inning, Johnson flied out to left field before Adams singled through the left side and advanced into scoring position on groundout by Maddox. Mitchell issued Thompson a walk, and with two on and one out Dent singled to left field to load the bases. Fontana was walked for the third time in the game, and without any room, Adams scored to tie the game. With the bases still loaded, Smith reached on a fielder’s choice that put Fontana out at second to end the inning 2-2.

Maronde retired the side in the top of the fifth forcing Freeman to line out, striking Parks out, and ending the half with a Shepherd fly out. Tucker popped out to first base, Zunino flied out to right field, and Johnson flied out to center for a quick inning by Mitchell.

In the top of the sixth, Vickerson hit a solo homerun over the left field fence for a one-run Bulldog lead.  Collins struck out and Brownlee flied out to a sliding Smith in center field. O’Sullivan opted to replace Maronde with righty Greg Larson who struck out Ogden for the third out. After Adams led off with a basehit into right field, Mississsippi State head coach John Cohen made the pitching change to another righty, Taylor Stark. Maddox reached on a fielder’s choice as Adams was out at second, but a bad throw to first elminated the double play. Thompson grounded out to short stop, advancing Maddox over a base, followed by Stark issuing a walk to Dent. With two on and two out, Fontana grounded to second to end the inning 3-2 Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs opened the seventh with back-to-back singles by Thigpen and Bradford. Freeman popped out to Dent with a bunt, but the runners were held. Parks was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and ending Larson’s outing. With southpaw Steven Rodriguez on the mound, Shepherd reached on a fielder’s choice that put Parks out at second, advanced Bradford to third and sent Thigpen home. Shepherd advanced to second on a wild pitch that scored Bradford, but Thigpen strcukout to end the top half of the inning. Stark plunked Smith and walked Tucker to put the first two Florida batters aboard in the bottom of the seventh.With Zunino at the plate, Cohen called a meeting at the mound, and eventually motioned to the pen for the change to Luis Pollorena. Zunino singled to center field to load the bases, and Johnson regained the lead for the Gators with a grand slam over the right field fence. Adams grounded out to short stop, Maddox flied out to center field, and Thompson struckout swinging to end the inning with Florida in the lead 6-5.

Rodriguez set down the side in order in the top of the eighth: Collins flied out to left field, Brownlee lined out to center field, and Ogden lined out to left field. Dent took first after being issued a walk, and moved over to second on a sacrfice bunt by Fontana, and advanced to third after a sacrifice fly by Smith. A basehit into centerfield by Tucker scored Dent and forced the picthing change to Devin Jones. Zunino singled into left field and reached second on the throw as Tucker was called out at home by umpire Scott Erby to end the inning 7-5 Florida.

Maddox replaced Rodriguez in the top of the ninth, and pinch hitter T Johnson hit a first-pitch pop up to second base. Bradford flied out to center field, followed by a single to right center by Freeman to put one man on with two outs. Parks struckout to end the game, giving Maddox his fourth save of the campaign.

Tomorrow’s SEC tournament schedule will be Arkansas vs. Mississippi State at 10:30am, followed by the losers of games 3 and 4 start time TBD, Alabama vs. Florida 5:30pm, and the winners of games 3 and 4 start time TBD rounding out the second day of tourney action. All start times are Eastern.

 

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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