Florida beats Vanderbilt to reach CWS championship series
Published: Friday, June 24, 2011 at 5:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 at 5:22 p.m.
OMAHA, Neb. — The grind just got longer.
Who: Florida vs. South Carolina
When: Monday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN/103.7FM, AM-850
And that's a good thing for the Florida Gator baseball team.
Florida knows it will have two more games in this special season and possibly three after the Gators knocked off Vanderbilt 6-4 Friday to advance to the finals of the College World Series.
“This is a long grind,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “This team from Day 1, its goal was to play for the national championship. It doesn't always work out that way.
“We're looking forward to it.”
The Gators were facing Vanderbilt for the sixth time this season, and for the fifth time this season they won. Twice they have beaten Vandy in Omaha and also beat the Commodores to win the SEC Tournament.
Vanderbilt finished its season 54-12, while Florida improved to 53-17.
“I don't know what it is,” said O'Sullivan. “We've just been able to score one or two more runs than Vanderbilt this year.”
Florida received an excellent start from Alex Panteliodis, who set a school record for postseason strikeouts during the game, and scratched out four runs to take a 4-1 lead into the seventh.
Panteliodis allowed a solo homer to Aaron Westlake in the first, but only two hits after that. He has allowed one run in 11 1-3 innings against the Commodores this season.
“I missed my spot, and he definitely got ahold of it,” Panteliodis said of Westlake's 18th homer of the year. “But after that, I got in a groove, settled down.”
One of the big plays came in the third with Vanderbilt having runners on the corners and one out. Panteliodis picked off Tony Kemp and got a groundout to end the inning.
“It came from coach O'Sullivan, and I just executed it and we got the out,” Panteliodis said.
Florida tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Cody Dent tripled and scored on a Preston Tucker ground out. Nolan Fontana broke an 0-for-9 slump with a two-run single in the fourth, and the Gators added a run in the sixth.
But in the seventh, Florida's usually reliable bullpen imploded.
O'Sullivan used three pitchers in the inning, and they allowed three hits and two walks as Vanderbilt pulled to within 4-3.
“We haven't done that all year,” O'Sullivan said. “I don't know what happened, but we couldn't throw strikes. It didn't work out exactly the way you wanted it to.”
Playing to stave off elimination, Vanderbilt scored again in the top of the eighth to tie the game.
“We knew Vanderbilt wasn't going to lay down,” Tucker said. “It was a do-or-die situation for them. They were going to come back. We knew how quickly the game could turn around.
“I'd be lying if I said nerves weren't there. There were a few times in the field I was kind of nervous. They were starting to get something going. But we got out of it.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Daniel Pigott led off with a single, his second hit of the day. Dent, who reached base in all four plate appearances, bunted and beat out the throw to first. Nolan Fontana did the same to load the bases.
Vandy coach Tim Corbin pulled first-round pick Sonny Gray after 132 pitches and started playing matchups. Right-hander Will Clinard got Bryson Smith on a pop-up, and Corey Williams entered the game to pitch to Tucker.
Tucker responded by lining a pitch to right field that Tony Kemp raced to track down. But the ball hit off the fence, scoring a run and giving the Gators a lead.
“I knew they were going to put Williams in because he got me out before,” Tucker said. “I was looking for a fastball I could elevate. Obviously, I didn't have a great day before that (0-for-4 with two strikeouts).
“I knew the wind was blowing in, so I knew it would be tough to get it over his head. All I was worried about was getting the run in from third.”
Mike Zunino followed by striking out, but the third strike got by the catcher and Dent raced in from third.
Austin Maddox, playing for the first time in three weeks, threw a scoreless ninth inning to allow Florida to advance.
“We know there's a long way to go on this thing,” O'Sullivan said. “But you have to get there. We're excited to be playing for the national championship, but we're going to be business as usual the next couple of days.”
It was a difficult way for Vanderbilt to end its first trip to the CWS. And it showed in the post-game press conference. Corbin, who is one of O'Sullivan's best friends, was emotional as were his players.
“I've always said it's a car that's going 100 miles an hour and slams on the brakes,” Corbin said. “Tomorrow, they're all gone. That part stinks. That's not fun. I just hate to see it come to an end.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.