For back-to-back seasons (a first for Gators baseball) and the seventh time in Florida baseball history, the Gators are making the trip to Omaha to compete for the national title at the College World Series. Florida (50-17) bashed a season-high five home runs to defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs (38-25), 8-6.
Preston Tucker's clutch three-run homer in the seventh put the Gators up for good. It was an emotional win for the Gators as head coach Kevin O'Sullivan emphatically did the Gator Chomp to the Florida faithful at McKethan Stadium. Florida also reached the 50 win plateau for the first time since the Andy Lopez era in 1996. Next stop for the Gators: the brand new TD Ameritrade Park. The Gator Nation is hoping Florida can christen the new stadium with UF's first national championship in baseball.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. To the exciting highlights...SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the first with a solo home run to give the Gators a 1-0 lead. Zunino mashed throughout the Gainesville Super Regional, going 6-for-13 (.461 avg) with two home runs and four RBI.
Daniel Pigott and Vickash Ramjit hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning to give Florida a 4-0 lead. Pigott's homer was a two-run shot and Ramjit's home run was the first of his Florida career (he transferred from Miami).
The way starting pitcher Alex Panteliodis was dealing, you'd think the four run lead would be safe. But Panteliodis ran into some trouble in the fourth when the Bulldogs got back-to-back singles and the bane of the Gators existence Nick Vickerson came to the plate. You may remember Vickerson for his walk-off two-run shot last night to force this game three. Well, Vickerson came through again for Mississippi State, hitting a three-run homer that cut the Florida lead to 4-3, then coming up big once again in the seventh with a two-out RBI single to knot the game at 4-4.
Brent Brownlee then gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the day on a two-run single that made the score 6-4. But it was the bottom of the seventh that provided the drama for the Gators. Tucker hit one of the most important hits of his career, a three-run home run to straight away center field to put Florida up 7-6. The blast was Tucker's 14th of the year, the 40th of his Florida career, and pushed him over 200 RBI in his three years in a Gators uniform.
Pigott added his second homer of the game to give Florida a two run cushion, 8-6, in the eighth inning, and Tommy Toledo pitched the final 2 1/3 innings to pick up the win for the Gators. The customary dogpile ensued when the final out was recorded.
Florida will now play the winner of the Austin Super Regional between Arizona State (43-17) and Texas (48-17). Their series is tied 1-1 and will resume tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
The College World Series starts June 18th.