Florida fought off elimination Thursday, defeating Arkansas 5-4 in the SEC Tournament. Tonight, the Gators (41-14) will have to turn the trick again, facing No. 5 seed Vanderbilt in an elimination game at Hoover, Ala.
UF pitcher Alex Panteliodis went 6.2 innings, allowing three runs on four hits in a desperately needed quality start. There is no shame in losing to LSU and Arkansas (40-18), but there is in going 0-2 in the SEC Tournament. The Gators won because they did what they have excelled at all season; create runs. Florida scored five runs on base hits, sacrifices, productive outs and a Little League first-and-third rundown. At Hoover's big ballpark, Florida's power plants in Austin Maddox (two singles, 2 RBI) and Preston Tucker (single, 1 R) will not supply a burst. They need to worry only about line drives and moving runners.
The day was also saved by Jonathan Pigott in right field, who snared a line-drive in the 9th that would have tied the game and doubled off an Arkansas runner to secure Kevin Chapman's 11th save. Tucker had started in right field, but after some unstable plays, was sent back to first base by coach Kevin O'Sullivan. Had Tucker remained in right, UF might be on a bus home.
UF gets Vandy (41-16) today at 7:30pm ET. Vandy lost Thursday to LSU, 7-5. The winner would have to defeat Alabama twice (don't ask me why they would play a team from the opposite bracket) on Saturday, to get to the Championship Game on Sunday. The SEC does a one-game final, rather than the College World Series best-of-three final.