Gators' SEC Baseball Tournament run ends with title game loss to No. 1 Tennessee

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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Florida baseball puzzled Tennessee at the plate early, but the nation’s best team ultimately couldn’t be denied in its quest for the conference championship. 

The No. 7 seed Gators (39-22) made it all the way from the first round to the SEC Tournament Championship round, but UF couldn’t defeat the No. 1 Volunteers, falling 8-5 to Tennessee at Hoover Met Stadium. 

UF held the Vols (53-7) to just one hit and no runs through four innings, but Tennessee managed to plate four runs in the fifth inning, and the Gators made a change on the mound before recording the third out of the inning. 

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Consecutive doubles by the Volunteers in the sixth inning brought three runs across the plate and put UF in a seven-run deficit. Despite recording hits in each of the first six innings, the Gators couldn’t manage any runs of their own until BT Riopelle’s two-run home run to left center field, Riopelle’s 15th home run of the season.

Josh Rivera’s full-count, two-out single brought UF’s third run across and cut Tennessee's lead to 7-3. A solo home run from Drew Gilbert in the ninth capped the scoring for the Vols, and Gators remained alive with a pair of runs in the ninth before Jud Fabian flied out to the warning track to seal Tennessee's victory.

"Well, first of all, congratulate Tennessee. They've had a remarkable season. They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Obviously today was a tough one for us. I thought we battled the entire week. We were one hitter away from getting the tying run to the plate."

UF starter Carsten Finnvold keeps Vols in check early

Florida pitcher Carsten Finnvold (49) yells after retiring the side against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament Championship game at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala., on Sunday.

With the Gators continuing to rest their starting rotation for the postseason, freshman Carsten Finnvold — who had tossed just 4 and 1/3 innings in four appearances this season — was called upon to start on the mound for Florida, and Finnvold exceeded his season total in Sunday's outing. Finnvold pitched a successful four innings before Tennessee managed a trio of hits off the freshman in the fifth, and his day ended after 78 pitches across 4 and 2/3 innings. 

"I thought Carsten threw the ball great today," O'Sullivan said. "He's a different look, and obviously you run across pitchers like him, you don't see guys like him a lot. I thought he pitched great."

Finnvold may have been tagged with the loss, but he struck out six Volunteers to keep it anyone's game in the early going. It may not have been reflected in the scorebook, but Finnvold made his case for a heavier workload with Sunday's performance.

"I thought he pitched to both sides of the plate with his fastball. His changeup he used against right-handers and left-handers. He stole some strikes early in the count with his breaking ball. And he battled," O'Sullivan said. "He did exactly what he needed to do to give us a chance to win today."

Florida in position to host NCAA regional

Florida third baseman Colby Halter (5) and Tennessee shortstop Cortland Lawson (9) tie up at the end of a triple by Lawson in the SEC Tournament Championship game at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala., on Sunday.

The Gators managed to take four of six contests in Hoover, including an upset of a top-five opponent in Texas A&M who was red-hot offensively coming into the conference tournament.

Florida, with an RPI of 12 and a top-15 strength of schedule, now has 39 wins in 60 tries, which should result in UF being selected to host an NCAA Regional.  The NCAA is expected to announce 16 host sites at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN channel updates and NCAA Baseball's social media channels. The NCAA Division I Baseball championship selection show will air at noon Monday on ESPN2. 

He may not have a vote, but O'Sullivan believes UF's place among the top-16 teams left in the country is secured after Florida's run in Hoover. Regardless of whether they host or not, the Gators are clearly peaking with the NCAA Tournament around the corner. 

"That's for the committee to decide, but I do like the way we're playing. Do I think we're one of the top 16 teams in the country? Absolutely," he said. "But that's something we can't control. But I like our team. I really like our team. I think we're playing our best baseball. We have been for a while now. I think a run like this in the tournament should certainly help us moving forward."

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