For the first time since 2005, the Florida Gators have won the SEC Pennant.
The Gators (40-12, 22-7, No. 4) clinched the top record in the SEC, the top seed in the SEC Tournament and probably a top-4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with Friday night's 5-2 win over South Carolina. The Gators are now two games up on the Gamecocks (42-13, 20-9, No. 6) with one to play.
The teams were tied 2-2 in the top of the 7th when the much maligned Josh Adams continued to break out of his season long funk. Adams' two-out, two-RBI double gave the Gators a lead they would not lose. Florida's bullpen was again spectacular, with Kevin Chapman getting five outs for his tenth save.
Just like Thursday, South Carolina had chances to strike early, but could not convert. UF starter Hudson Randall pitched 5.1 innings, and allowed nine hits but only two runs. Steven Rodriguez came in and earned the win with his 1.1 innings of one hit relief. The most impressive thing was UF limiting one of the most powerful leadoff men in college baseball. South Carolina's Whit Merrifield, with his .338 average, 12 homers and .548 slugging, was 0-5 with two strikeouts. In the last two games, he was 1-9 with one walk and three strikeouts.
The Gators did not score until the 4th, when Matt den Dekker singled, stole second, advanced on a ground out and scored on Austin Maddox's sac fly. (Hooray for productive outs!) UF tied it in the 6th when Adams scored on a Preston Tucker triple. Adams knocked in the final run in the 9th. Hitting out of the nine hole, Adams was 3-4 with three RBI and two doubles. Adams had been hitting .216 as he was dropped from the top of the lineup to the bottom throughout the season.
Florida has won 15 of 16 games, going back to the last time UF lost two of three games. That is significant as they will now try to win two of every three starting with next week at the SEC Tournament in Alabama. It is important to remember that this team was talented going in and was expected to compete for the SEC Pennant. But the way in which they have won games and with a very deep pitching staff (the returning Tommy Toledo might be their most talented pitcher), Florida can do some damage.
Looking ahead, UF just needs to stay healthy at Hoover for the SEC Tournament. They already have their Pennant and have done plenty to get a top-8 seed and a Super Regional home series. (Teams are not guaranteed home Regionals, but it would seem likely that the Gators would get one.) The most important thing is that now the Gators are on the Road To Omaha.