Gators must get past Vanderbilt again for shot at National Title

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OMAHA, NE- Florida (52-17) and Vanderbilt (54-11) will meet for the sixth time this season on Friday afternoon at the NCAA College World Series.

The Gators need one more victory to reach next week’s best-of-three championship series, while the Commodores have to beat Florida twice in order to advance. UF has taken four of the five encounters this season, including the last three. SEC East members Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt reaching the “final four” marks the first time in CWS history that three teams from the same conference have advanced this far in the event.

Junior Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) (6-2, 3.95) will be making his 12th start of the year, second of the season against Vanderbilt on Friday, and will oppose All-American junior righty Sonny Gray (12-3, 2.12). Over 57 innings, the Gator lefty has 44 strikeouts, given up nine walks and has limited opponents to a .257 batting average. In NCAA play during his career, Panteliodis is 3-1 in six starts with a 4.64 ERA. He defeated the Commodores in the SEC Tourney final (5.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 5 K, 1 BB).

Now in its seventh trip to the CWS, this is just the second time that the Orange and Blue has started 2-0. The 2005 squad defeated Tennessee (6-4) and Nebraska (7-4) in its first two outings and then fell to Arizona State (6-1). UF rebounded to oust the Sun Devils (6-3) for a spot in the championship round that year but dropped a pair of games to Texas (4-2, 6-2).

The second encounter with Vanderbilt this week will represent the eighth time that Florida will face a league opponent at the CWS and the team has a 2-5 (.286) mark in those outings. The Gators dropped a couple of games to LSU in both 1991 (8-1, 19-8) and 1996 (9-4, 2-1) and were edged by Mississippi State in 1998 (14-13) before downing Tennessee in 2005 (6-4) and Vanderbilt on Monday (3-1).

Florida’s triumph over the Commodores was its 52nd victory of the year, eclipsing the previous best of 51 done in 1991, when the club finished 51-21. In the past two seasons, the Gators have won 99 games (47-17 in 2010, 52-17 in 2011), the top two-year span in school history.

UF notched a 3-1 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday in the completion of Monday night’s winner’s bracket game at the NCAA College World Series. Sophomore Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) (4-2), who took over on the mound in the fifth inning on Monday before the contest was halted because of weather issues, came back on Tuesday morning and went the rest of the way to pick up the win. Over a season-high 4.1 scoreless and hitless innings, the southpaw registered a career-high seven strikeouts and permitted one walk. Rodriguez retired 13 of the 14 batters he faced, including the final eight in a row, and concluded the contest with back-to-back strikeouts of junior Jason Esposito and freshman Conrad Gregor. Junior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) (2-for-4) provided the Gators’ offense with a three-run blast in the fourth inning off of Commodore junior Grayson Garvin (13-2). Freshman starter Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) limited VU to one run on four hits and had five strikeouts over 4.2 innings.

The Gators blanked Vanderbilt, 5-0, to capture the 2011 SEC Tournament on May 29 at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. It was the first time in 20 years that Florida won the league’s tourney and was its sixth title (1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1991, 2011). The triumph also represented the first time since 1988 that the Orange and Blue had won the SEC and SEC Tourney in the same season.

Making his first start of the campaign against a league opponent, Panteliodis (5-2) scattered five hits and registered five strikeouts over 5.1 scoreless innings to earn the win over VU, which had taken its first three outings at the SEC Tourney. The left-hander was followed to the mound by junior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) (0.2 IP, 2 H), junior Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.) (2.0 IP, 1 K) and sophomore Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (1.0 IP, 2 H, 1 K) as Florida established a single-season school record with its 11th shutout. UF’s four victories at the event were its most since going 4-0 to win the 1991 SEC Tournament held in Baton Rouge, La. Junior outfielder Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.), who went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the SEC Tourney after batting .583 (7-for-12) over the four games he played, with six runs and six stolen bases.

In the teams’ regular-season meeting, Florida split the first two games with Vanderbilt, taking the opener, 6-5, before suffering a 14-1 setback in game two. The Gators and Commodores battled into the 12th inning of the finale before UF prevailed, 6-3, to capture the series and forge a three-way tie on top of the SEC standings with the Commodores and South Carolina heading into the final series of the regular season.

Sophomore Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) led the team with a .455 (5-for-11) average in Nashville but the squad was held to a .200 clip. Six of Florida’s 21 hits in the series were homers, including a pair by sophomore Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) in Sunday’s finale. Zunino delivered a three-run homer in the 12th to lift the Gators over Vanderbilt, 6-3, to take the rubber game of the series. Deadlocked at 3-3, Fontana (3-for-5, two runs) walked to open the 12th and was sacrificed to second on a two-strike bunt by senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.). The Commodores walked Tucker intentionally and Zunino (2-for-5, five RBI, two HR) greeted junior Navery Moore with his second homer of the day, a three-run shot into the right-field bleachers that gave the Gators their first lead of the afternoon at 6-3. Zunino had blasted a solo homer in the seventh to pull UF within 3-2. Junior Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.) struck out three batters over two scoreless innings to earn the win and wiggled out of a jam in the 11th when the Commodores had the potential winning run on third base with one down. UF’s five relievers tossed 7.2 innings of scoreless ball and gave up just three hits. Maronde followed Whitson and permitted one hit over 3.1 innings with three K.

Vanderbilt had evened the series on Saturday by reeling off 14 unanswered runs after Smith had started the third inning with his second homer. The Commodores banged out 18 hits, scored multiple runs in four different frames and relied on the pitching of Garvin to set the stage for the decisive game. Senior Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.) cranked a game-tying homer to begin the ninth and Smith snapped an 0-for-16 drought with an RBI double as Florida edged Vanderbilt, 6-5, in the completion of Friday night’s suspended contest at Hawkins Field on Saturday afternoon. Adams tied the game at 5-5 with a leadoff homer in the ninth off Moore, who had not permitted an extra-base hit the entire season. The blast was the fifth for Adams and came against a hurler who possessed a microscopic 0.36 earned run average entering the ballgame. In the ninth, Pigott extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a one-out single into left field and raced down to second base on a wild pitch. Fontana (1-for-3, two RBI) drew a walk for two Gators aboard and Smith came through with a double to right field that brought across Pigott for a 6-5 lead. Maddox picked up his second save by putting down Vanderbilt in order in the ninth to preserve the triumph for junior Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.). The Gators had been 1-11 when trailing after eight innings until that afternoon’s heroics.

Florida overcame a 3-0 deficit en route to an 8-4 victory over Texas in front of 25,521 fans last Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha to complete the first day of the 65th NCAA College World Series. Sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) improved to 11-3 on the campaign by limiting Texas to one earned run over 6.2 innings, Larson struck out the only batter he faced with the Gators holding a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning and the tying run aboard at second base and Maronde set down all six batters he faced and totaled three K over two innings to collect his third save.

Offensively for the Orange and Blue, senior Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.) (2-for-2, two runs, two RBI) reached base in all five of his plate appearances, with two singles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch, sophomore Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) put the Gators ahead to stay with a two-out RBI double in the fourth inning off junior Taylor Jungmann (13-3), Pigott was 2-for-3 and sophomore Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) returned to the lineup for the first time since May 28 and delivered a key two-run double that should have been ruled a homer in the seventh.