Top-Ranked Gators Turn Back Diamond Dogs' Bid For Omaha
The Bulldogs pushed the tournament's No. 2 national seed to the brink before falling in dramatic fashion. MSU evened the best-of-three series with a 4-3 win on a Nick Vickerson two-run walk-off home run Saturday. Vickerson also hit a three-run blast Sunday. The Maroon and White actually led 6-4 in the seventh inning but could not close the deal.
"To come here and do what we did was special," Vickerson said. "I was proud of our guys for coming and fighting back, and getting that lead again. In my head, it was like if they are going to win, they are going to earn it."
Florida (50-17) hit five total home runs Sunday to advance to the College World Series for the seventh time in program history. The Gators will be making back-to-back appearances. Meanwhile, MSU (38-25) was trying for Omaha for the first time since 2007. The Bulldogs capped an improbable run by sweeping the Atlanta Regional and then falling short in the school's first-ever third game of a Super Regional series.
"I couldn't be prouder of our kids," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "This postseason they did an incredible job of competing every minute."
The Gators touched MSU starting pitcher Luis Pollorena for four hits and four runs in two innings of work. In the first inning, UF's Mike Zunino hit a two-out solo home run. An inning later, the lead grew to 4-0 on back-to-back home runs by Daniel Pigott (two-run shot) and Vickash Ramjit (solo shot).
From there, Devin Jones entered in relief and threw three innings of shutout relief as the Bulldogs slowly rallied.
After a scoreless inning by MSU reliever Taylor Stark, the Bulldogs scored three times in the seventh inning. It marked MSU's only in-game half-inning lead in the Super Regional.
Back-to-back outs started the MSU seventh inning before Freeman connected for a double to left center. The Gators turned to Tommy Toledo, in relief of reliever Nick Maronde. Toledo walked Parks on four pitches.
Vickerson followed with a game-tying RBI-single to right field. After a steal of second base, the Bulldogs had a pair of runners in scoring position. Brent Brownlee followed with a two-run single to left field.
Leading 6-4, the Bulldogs turned to Daryl Norris in relief. Norris walked the only two batters he faced. After a sacrifice-bunt advanced the runners, Preston Tucker scored them all with his 14th home run of the season. That blast came off Caleb Reed (1-2), who followed Norris to the mound after the two walks.
"We just let them create an inning there by walking people," Cohen said. "The reason we brought Caleb in right there is because that's where the game was."
In the eighth inning, Chris Stratton was touched for the final home run by Florida - a solo shot by Pigott.
After allowing the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning, Toledo (6-3) retired all six batters he faced over the eighth and ninth innings to garner the win.
While the postseason did not end on a positive note, Cohen and his staff can take great pride in its 2011 accomplishments. After three consecutive losing seasons, the Bulldogs posted 38 overall wins, while making the SEC Tournament, a regional and a super regional for the first time since 2007.
The Bulldogs were playing for the Southeastern Conference's Western Division championship on the regular season's final day. This success came a mere three months after being picked by league coaches to finish last in the league.
"We were picked to finish last (in the SEC), and the reason these guys bring it up is because they've got a chip on their shoulder," Cohen said. "That's why we made this jump. I want to be in Omaha. I don't want to say it's a moral victory, because there are none. We've got to get to Omaha and do whatever it takes to reach that goal."
The Bulldogs finished with 11 hits. Brownlee had three hits, while Freeman and Vickerson each added multiple hits.
The Gators finished with 10 hits. Pigott led the way with three hits, while Zunino and Tucker each had multiple hits.