June 13, 2010

By Paul D. Bowker
Special to NCAA.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's Austin Maddox has driven in a team-best 71 runs this season. But none of them were bigger than the one he drove in with a double in the 10th inning Saturday night.

His double down the right-field line scored Nolan Fontana to break a 3-3 tie. Less than 10 minutes later, the Gators were jumping all over each other on the pitching mound at McKethan Stadium, and coach Kevin O'Sullivan was getting a Gatorade shower, to celebrate their 4-3 Super Regional-clinching win over Miami.

The victory completed a two-game sweep of the Hurricanes in an NCAA Division I Baseball Super Regional and sends Florida to the College World Series for the first time since 2005. It will be the Gators' sixth appearance overall.

How big was that double in front of a record crowd of 5,783 and a national TV audience?

"I'll remember that hit for the rest of my life," Maddox said.

Florida (47-15), the No. 3 seed, was the first to advance for the College World Series, which will begin June 19 in Omaha, Neb. The Gators, Southeastern Conference East champions, have not lost in five postseason games and outscored their opponents, 43-10.

"This is what I came back for my senior year," said center fielder Matt den Dekker, a 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates draft choice who scored two runs and reached base in four of his five at-bats. "A great group of guys. The best moment in my career, my four years here."

"It's the very top of college baseball," O'Sullivan said of Omaha. "I'm awfully proud of our players."

While the Gators celebrated their 15th consecutive home victory, the Hurricanes (43-20) crawled away after a two-game nightmare that included nine errors, an interference call, a wild pitch and a balk. Worse, they were eliminated for the second consecutive year by rival Florida.

"As a team, we see it as a failure," Miami pitcher Chris Hernandez said. "You can see it on all our faces. We wanted to get to Omaha, and we didn't."

The Hurricanes played Saturday without Harold Martinez, their leading home run hitter. An infection in his shin, the result of multiple foul-tipped balls, sent Martinez to Shands Hospital in Gainesville late Friday night.

Saturday, the Hurricanes had seven errors, tying the school record for the most in a postseason game.

"We weren't able to capitalize on a lot of them," O'Sullivan said.

The two worst miscues: Fontana reached base in the 10th inning on a two-base error by Miami right fielder Chris Palaez when he misplayed a shallow fly ball and shortstop Stephen Perez's throwing error in the ninth inning with two out allowed the tying run to score.

"It was frustrating all game to watch the defense," Miami coach Jim Morris said.

"We gave it away," said Miami pitcher Chris Hernandez, who had one of the errors.

Still, the Gators trailed in the ninth inning. The Gators had pushed across two runs in seven innings despite getting just three hits off Hernandez. Florida freshman pitcher Hudson Randall cruised through the game until the seventh inning, when he was taken out of the game with two runners on base and two out.

Nathan Melendres, who hadn't gotten a hit in two nights, drilled reliever Kevin Chapman's third pitch over the right-field fence. Suddenly, for the first time in two games, the Hurricanes held a one-run lead.

"It was definitely a boost," Melendres said.

But the Gators weren't done. They loaded the bases in the ninth inning on a single, walk and Miami's fifth error of the game. Then came error No. 6, a season-worst for the Hurricanes. After two were out, Josh Adams hit a slow ground ball toward shortstop Stephen Perez. But Perez hurried his throw, and the ball hit the dirt before it arrived to first baseman Scott Lawson, who couldn't make the play. Preston Tucker scored, tying the score at 3.

The Gators had broken a scoreless tie in the fifth inning on the rare combination of a throwing error by Hernandez, an interference play and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. After den Dekker reached base on an infield hit, Florida's first hit of the game, he was headed to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Mike Zunino. Hernandez fielded the ball, but threw the ball wildly in an attempt to nail den Dekker at second. Then, as den Dekker turned to take off for third base, Miami shortstop Perez got in his way and was called for interference. Den Dekker was awarded third base and scored on the next play, a fly ball hit to deep center field by Brian Johnson.