No. 5 Florida tops No. 2 Vanderbilt
Zunino's three-run homer in 12th leads Gators to victory
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sophomore Mike Zunino delivered a three-run homer in the 12th inning to lift No. 5 Florida (39-13, 20-7 SEC) over No. 2 Vanderbilt (42-8, 20-7 SEC), 6-3, on Sunday afternoon at Hawkins Field. With the victory, the Gators are now locked into a three-way tie for the league lead with the Commodores and No. 3 South Carolina (41-11, 20-7 SEC) entering the final weekend of the regular season. UF will host Kentucky (24-28, 7-20 SEC) starting on Thursday night at McKethan Stadium, while the Gamecocks finish at Alabama (31-22, 13-14 SEC) and Vanderbilt travels to Georgia (26-26, 15-12 SEC).
Deadlocked at 3-3, sophomore Nolan 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. The Commodores elected to walk junior Preston Tucker ((1-for-4) intentionally and that free pass ended the day for junior Jack Armstrong (0-1). Over 3.2 innings, the righty did not allow any hits, with four walks and three strikeouts. 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 (3-3) 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.
Sophomore Austin Maddox opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo shot to straightaway center field off senior Taylor Hill. The slugger’s fourth big fly of the season came on a 2-2 pitch with one down and marked the Gators’ fifth-consecutive outing with a homer.
The Commodores answered in the bottom of the inning on RBI doubles by senior Curt Casali (3-for-5, two RBI, two runs) and sophomore Connor Harrell to take a 2-1 lead. Junior Jason Esposito led off with a single up the middle and scored on Casali’s one-out double off the left-field wall. On ball four to freshman Conrad Gregor, freshman Karsten Whitson uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Casali to third. With runners on the corners, Harrell ripped a two-bagger off the wall that brought in Gregor and left Vanderbilt with a pair in scoring position. Whitson responded with a strikeout of junior Riley Reynolds and had freshman Tony Kemp (2-for-6) ground out to keep the Gators down by a run.
Casali started the home part of the fourth with a towering homer that cleared the scoreboard overlooking left field. His fourth round-tripper gave the Commodores a 3-1 advantage.
Kemp began the fifth with a double into right field and Whitson had sophomore Anthony Gomez ground out to sophomore third baseman Cody Dent for the first out, with Kemp moving to third on the play. Junior Nick Maronde was called upon to replace Whitson (4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 5 K) and had junior Aaron Westlake ground out to senior second baseman Josh Adams before striking out Esposito.
Hill had retired 12-consecutive Gators before Fontana poked a one-out single into center field in the sixth. Hill countered by having Smith fly out to left field and Tucker ground out. Sophomore Mike Yastrzemski opened the bottom of the frame with an infield single and Maronde had Casali fly out. Zunino gunned down Yastrzemski attempting to steal second and Maronde caught Gregor looking on strikes to hold the Gators’ deficit at 3-1.
Zunino pulled Florida to within 3-2 with a homer to deep left field to begin the seventh. Not only was it his team-leading 11th homer, it was his first hit of the series after starting 0-for-9. After Hill (6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R) retired sophomore Brian Johnson on a fly ball, sophomore Will Clinard took over on the mound. The righty struck out Maddox and Adams kept the inning going with a single into right field. Clinard preserved the lead by having junior Daniel Pigott fly out to end the stanza.
After Maronde put down the Commodores in order in the seventh, Dent grounded out to begin the eighth. Clinard (1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 K) was replaced by sophomore Corey Williams, who yielded Fontana’s third hit of the game, a single into left center. Smith was hit by a pitch for two runners aboard and Tucker delivered a single into shallow right to load the bases and prompt a pitching change. Zunino tied the game with a sacrifice fly into right field off senior Mark Lamm that scored Fontana. Freshman Kevin Ziomek walked Johnson to fill the bases and Armstrong struck out Maddox to keep the game deadlocked at 3-3.
Maronde recorded the first two outs in the home part of the eighth and was replaced by junior Greg Larson, who had Esposito ground out to first base. Over 3.1 scoreless innings, Maronde permitted one hit and totaled three strikeouts.
Adams began the ninth with a walk and was sacrificed into scoring position on a bunt by Pigott. Armstrong worked out of the jam by striking out Dent and having Fontana ground out.
In the bottom of the inning, Larson issued a leadoff walk to Yastrzemski and grounder by Casali pushed his teammate into scoring position. Sophomore Steven Rodriguez came in for Larson (0.2 IP) and fanned Gregor for the second out. After an intentional walk to Harrell, Rodriguez came through with a punch-out of sophomore pinch hitter Jack Lupo to provide the fans with free baseball.
In the 10th, Tucker walked with one down and Zunino sent a liner to shortstop that Gomez couldn’t handle for two runners aboard. Armstrong responded with a strikeout of Johnson and had a grounder by Maddox force Tucker at third to close the frame.
Kemp opened the home part of the stanza by legging out an infield single which took a wicked hop in front of Maddox and then Gomez was hit by a pitch. Rodriguez struck out Westlake for the first out and switched places with Maddox, as the pitcher went to first base and Maddox took the hill. The righty had a wild pitch that advanced both runners into scoring position but then jammed Esposito on an infield fly that Rodriguez snared for the second out. Rodriguez came back to the hill and struck out Yastrzemski after the hitter fouled off numerous pitches.
Toledo came in for Rodriguez (1.1 IP, 1 H, 4 K) prior to Vanderbilt’s at bat in the 11th, and surrendered a leadoff double to Casali. A fly ball to center by Gregor moved the potential winning run to third and Toledo countered with back-to-back strikeouts of Harrell and sophomore pinch hitter Sam Lind to send the game to the 12th.