Gators Clinch Tie for SEC Title

Even though No. 4 Florida held a 3-1 lead after three innings, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan knew his team couldn't become complacent. He brought the team together in the dugout before their fourth trip to the plate to get his point across. It worked, as the Gators (41-15/22-8 SEC) poured on 11 runs in the next two plate appearances to clinch the SEC Championship with a 19-3 win.

"He just said stick to our approach and keep trying to hit balls hard," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "We just wanted to try and get as many insurance runs as we can and carry some momentum because we've got a big thing in Hoover (SEC Tournament) coming up."

The win secured a split SEC Championship between Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Gators are the first team to win back-to-back SEC Championships since LSU did it in 1996-97. It was also the Florida athletic program's eighth SEC title this year, tying for the conference record set by the Gators in 1991-1992 and Georgia in 2005-2006.

Despite that, there wasn't a big celebration. No dog pile on the mound like last season at South Carolina. Instead, the Gators shook hands, shared a few hugs and started looking towards the postseason.

"We're sharing a title with two other teams, and I would hope that a lot of it has to do with bigger things ahead of us with Regionals, Super Regionals and the College World Series."

O'Sullivan wanted to make sure his hitters didn't help Kentucky starter Corey Littrell out by letting him off the hook with a 3-1 lead. The offense responded with an attack.

After Cody Dent grounded out to start the inning, Bryson Smith reached on an error by the shortstop and moved to third on a double by Nolan Fontana. Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker followed with RBI singles before Josh Adams drove in a run with a double. Brian Johnson continued the onslaught by driving in two runs with a single of his own. Austin Maddox then finished off the inning with a home run to left field, giving the Gators a 10-1 lead after the fourth inning.

"We came in today knowing we were going to win," Adams said. "It's just one of those games where you can't come in thinking there's a chance we're going to lose. That was our mentality throughout the whole game. We knew if we hit well, we were going to win."

Even with a nine-run lead, the Gators didn't stop scoring. Josh Adams drove in a run with a single, but it was Maddox that provided the big blow with a three-run home run. Maddox ended the game 3-for-5 with two home runs and 5 RBIs. The sophomore came into the game with only four home runs on the season after hitting 17 during his freshman year, but he has swung the bat well in recent weeks.

"It felt good to come out and do that today," Maddox said. "I'm seeing the ball well. Everybody is going to struggle, but you just have to work through it."

Florida tallied a season-high 25 hits in the game as 12 players recorded a hit and five starters had at least three hits. Seven Florida hitters recorded an RBI.

Freshman starting pitcher Karsten Whitson went five innings, allowing seven hits and one run while striking out four hitters. He only went 70 pitches because most of the Florida bullpen pitchers were rested and needed work before SEC Tournament.

Whitson ended the regular season of his freshman year with a 7-0 record and a 2.47 ERA.

"He has done a great job all year long," O'Sullivan said. "He pitched really well. For a freshman, it was a big game and everyone knows it. He gave up one in the first before settling in and giving our team a lot of confidence."

The Gators now move onto the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Florida's first game will come against Mississippi State on Wednesday a half hour after the conclusion of Arkansas-Alabama, which starts at 9:30 a.m.


Fightin Gators Top Stories