UF baseball takes SEC crown

Published: Friday, May 21, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Before the final out even landed in the glove of Florida center fielder Matt den Dekker, closer Kevin Chapman threw his glove high into the Carolina sky.


Today’s game

When: 4 p.m. TV: Sun Sports

Radio: 103.7 FM

Pitching matchup, — UF: Freshman left-hander Brian Johnson (5-2, 3.53). USC: To be announced.

“Matty is automatic out there,” Chapman said. “I may have celebrated a little bit early, but it was worth it.”

Florida (40-12, 22-7 SEC) clinched its 11th Southeastern Conference baseball title in school history, beating South Carolina 5-2 before 8,242 fans at Carolina Stadium. Chapman recorded the final five outs for his 10th save, then was dog-piled on the mound by his teammates.

“All the credit goes to the players,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They’re the ones out there playing between the lines. I was proud of the way we were able to play in a tough environment.

It was Florida’s first SEC title since 2005 and 20th SEC East division title.

“This is one of our goals,” O’Sullivan said. “Everyone in the league plays for the chance for the title. But it’s our first goal. Our ultimate goal is to go to Omaha (the site of the College World Series).”

To clinch the SEC title, Florida received a big offensive night from an unlikely hero. Second baseman Josh Adams, who came into the game batting .219, went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs. Adams belted a tie-breaking, two-out, two-RBI double to center in the seventh to put Florida ahead to stay 4-2.

“It felt good to finally contribute,” Adams said. “Hopefully this is something that will be good for my confidence.”

Said O’Sullivan: “Josh has worked awfully hard. Even though he’s had the kind of season that he’s had, what are you going to remember, batting .219 or getting three hits and 3 RBIs to win the SEC title? You have to keep plugging away.”

For the second straight night, Florida got a big boost from its bullpen. After freshman starter Hudson Randall allowed two runs over 5.1 innings, UF’s bullpen closed the game with 3.2 innings of scoreless relief.

“We’re getting kind of used to it,” Adams said.

Freshman lefty Steven Rodriguez (1-0) struck out three over 1.1 innings of scoreless relief for his first career win.

“This is what I came to Florida for, the chance to do something special,” Rodriguez said.

South Carolina jumped ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second when Adam Matthews blasted a 3-1 pitch from Randall into the stands in left field for his sixth home run of the season.

Florida answered by manufacturing a run in the top of the fourth. Den Dekker led off the inning with a single to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. After stealing second, den Dekker moved to third on a Preston Tucker ground out. Austin Maddox followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center to tie the score at 1.

South Carolina took a 2-1 lead in the fourth, stringing together three straight singles off Randall. Bobby Haney’s RBI single to put the Gamecocks ahead was a blooper that landed just beyond out-stretched UF shortstop Nolan Fontana.

Florida tied it up at 2 the sixth. Adams led off the inning with a double to deep center field and moved to third on a Fontana sacrifice. After den Dekker grounded back to the pitcher, Tucker came through with the first clutch hit of the night, lacing an RBI tripe down the right-field line.

That set the stage for the seventh. With runners on second and third, Adams hit a 1-2 pitch from South Carolina starter Sam Dyson (5-5) in nearly the same location as his double in the sixth.

“That’s how I like to hit, going the other way,” Adams said.

With the title clinched, O’Sullivan said he is contemplating pushing back scheduled freshman starter Brian Johnson to Wednesday’s SEC Tournament opening game. O’Sullivan said he may also plan to play several reserves against the Gamecocks (42-13, 20-9).

“It may be a situation where we push Brian back or only have him throw one inning,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to have a chance to get some guys some rest. It will be a good team game for us.”

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