One Step Closer to the CWS Finals, Florida Meets Vandy for Sixth Time

The Florida Gators (52-17) took on the Vanderbilt Commodores (53-11) Monday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha and were leading 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning when the game was postponed due to a high wind advisory. When play resumed Tuesday morning Vanderbilt was at the plate with two outs; 44 minutes later Florida would seal the victory as neither team would record another hit.

First team Freshman All-American Karsten Whitson (8-0) took the mound to start for the Gators and pitched 4.2 solid innings, allowing one earned run on four hits with one walk, one wild pitch, and five strikeouts before relinquishing his duties to eventual winner Steven Rodriguez (4-2). Rodriguez threw 50 pitches (37 strikes) in 4.1 almost-perfect innings facing 14 batters and retiring 13 of them, seven due to strikeouts. The lone batter Rodriguez did not retire was CF Connor Harrell, whom he issued a walk in the bottom of the seventh inning.

SEC Pitcher of the Year and Tampa Bay Rays first round draft pick Grayson Garvin (13-2) got the nod for Vanderbilt, picking up his second loss on the season and allowing three earned runs on five hits also with one walk and one wild pitch, but striking out nine. Will Clinard (2 IP) and Corey Williams (1 IP) also made appearances for the Commodores as neither allowed a hit, and faced the minimum nine batters combined.

Vanderbilt threatened early in the first inning as Anthony Gomez singled up the middle, advanced to second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch and Tony Kemp tripled in the third frame, but were both left stranded as Whitson was able to pitch out of both jams.

Florida would open the scoring in the top of the fourth after Nolan Fontana was issued a one-out walk and advanced to third on a throwing error by Garvin as Mike Zunino singled to first base, Preston Tucker hit a shot to deep right field – his fifth of the NCAA Tournament. Josh Adams would follow up with a single, but back-to-back strikeouts to Brian Johnson and Daniel Pigott would end the stanza with the Gators ahead 3-0.

With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Harrell singled up the middle, and moved to second on a ground out by Riley Reynolds.  Kemp was issued a free pass and Gomez singled to left field, scoring Harrell and forcing Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to make the pitching change to the southpaw. Rodriguez struck out Aaron Westlake to end the inning with Florida leading 3-1.

Preston Tucker would record the last hit of the game; a double to right center in the top of the sixth inning and when the game resumed Harrell was the final base runner of the contest.

The SEC East rivals will meet again Friday as Vanderbilt defeated North Carolina 5-1 in Wednesday’s elimination game. Commodore pitchers Taylor Hill and Corey Williams combined on a four-hitter, and Harrell and Curt Casali both homered as they beat the Tar Heels for the second time in the College World Series.

It will be the sixth meeting between the two teams this campaign with the Gators winning four of five games. The Commodores are in Omaha for the first time and would need to beat the Gators twice to reach next week’s best-of-three finals, while the Gators only need one win to advance.

This is the first time in CWS history that three of the four final teams will all come from one NCAA Division and all three (Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina) are SEC Tri-Champions. The defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks (52-14) will face the winner of the Virginia-Cal elimination game to be played Thursday.

 

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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