Florida baseball claims share of SEC title with blowout

Florida batter Austin Maddox, left, is congratulated by Brian Johnson after hitting the first of his two home runs against Kentucky at McKethan Stadium on Saturday in Gainesville. Florida defeated Kentucky 19-3 to clinch a share of the SEC title with South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.

Judging by how the Florida Gators celebrated Saturday, sharing a conference title apparently feels a little different and carries a little less weight than winning one outright.


SEC Tournament

When: Wednesday, May 25 - Sunday, May 29
Where: Regions Park, Hoover, Ala.
TV: CSS, Cox Channel 259 in Gainesville/Ocala

Wednesday's games
Game 1: 10:30 a.m. - No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 2 Arkansas
Game 2: 1 p.m. - No. 6 Mississippi State vs. No. 3 Florida
Game 3: 5:30 p.m. - No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 1 South Carolina
Game 4: 8:30 p.m. - No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 4 Vandy

In sharp contrast to last year's wild celebration in Columbia, S.C., after clinching the SEC title outright, the Gators were pretty subdued early Saturday evening after earning a share of the conference title with a blowout win over Kentucky at McKethan Stadium.

With probably less than 1,200 of their fans sticking around to the end of the Gators' 19-3 trouncing of Kentucky, Florida's celebration consisted of quiet handshakes and a few hugs. (There was nothing even close to a dog pile on the mound after the final out, like a year ago when UF clinched at South Carolina).

“That's partly because of the score,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of the lack of a celebration. “We're sharing the title with two other teams, and I would hope that a lot of it has to do with the fact we have bigger and better things ahead of us.

“I don't know about better, but bigger, with the regional and super regional and World Series. But these championships don't come around very often. The last time it happened (at Florida) was 30 years ago. This is a tough league.

“There were three teams in the East (UF, South Carolina and Vanderbilt) ranked in the top five in the country. I think all three teams feel like they've accomplished something this year. SEC championships don't come around very often.”

The Gators (41-15, 22-8 SEC) will share the title with the Gamecocks and Commodores. This is only the second time in school history that UF has won back-to-back conference championships (the other time was 1981-82).

UF enters the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., this week as the No. 3 seed. The Gators will play Mississippi State on Wednesday afternoon.

As it turned out, the Gators missed their chance to win the title outright Friday night, when they were blown out by Kentucky 14-1. They needed to win Saturday's game to earn a share.

Despite all that was on the line, there was very little buzz and very little drama attached to this afternoon at the ballpark. Mainly because South Carolina clinched its share of the league title before the first pitch of UF's game. Vandy picked up its share shortly thereafter. And the Gators put their game away early, with a seven-run fourth inning that gave them a commanding 10-1 lead.

The final outcome was somewhat anti-climatic.

“It feels great,” said sophomore catcher Mike Zunino, who had four hits and drove in a run. “To do this back-to-back is incredible. It's a great feeling.

“But, obviously, we wanted to win it straight out. We want to take it the right way. We have more goals in mind. We don't want to celebrate too early.”

The Gators really didn't celebrate much at all Saturday — because they had clubbed the Wildcats into submission hours before the final out.

Austin Maddox homered in back-to-back innings (fourth and fifth), and he, Josh Adams and Brian Johnson combined to drive in 14 of the Gators' 19 runs. UF finished with a season-high 25 hits.

“Everybody started getting hot today,” Adams said. “Hopefully, we can keep that going into next week.

“We came into today knowing we were going to win. This isn't one of those games where you feel there's a chance you're going to lose. We came in knowing we were going to win. That was our mentality throughout the whole game. We came out ready to go. We knew if we hit well today we'd win the ball game.”

The game actually did not start well for the Gators, who fell behind after UK tagged starter Karsten Whitson (7-0) for a run in the first inning.

UF tied the game on a home run by Johnson to lead off the second inning.

After Whitson worked out of a jam in the third (the ‘Cats had runners on first and third with only one out), the Gators took command with seven runs in the bottom of the inning. The Gators sent 12 batters to the plate and hammered out seven consecutive hits — the big blow being a three-run home run by Maddox.

Maddox followed with a two-run homer in a four-run fifth.

“If felt good to come out there and do that today,” Maddox said. “We don't take that for granted (winning back-to-back league titles). We know these things don't come around very often. We're all excited right now.”

Even if it didn't show.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com.

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