Gators Blast Miami; Win Regional

There's no better sight for Preston Tucker than the Miami Hurricanes in an NCAA Regional. The right fielder went 2-for-4 with five RBI on Sunday to give the Gators an 11-4 win and move Florida on to the Super Regionals. Tucker became the first player in school history to secure two Regional MVP awards as the Gators beat Miami for the sixth consecutive time and eighth straight in the postseason.

"I'm just trying to get hot at the right time," Tucker said. "I tried to tone down my swing this week since we had a whole week to work on things. Right now, I'm swinging it as well as I can."

Tucker didn't waste time setting the tone for Sunday's game. He blasted Miami starting pitcher EJ Encinosa's ninth pitch of the game well over the right field fence for a three-run home run. Tucker added a two-run double off the top of the wall in the third inning, just missing a home run by feet.

The similarities between both of his Regional MVPs are tough to ignore. In 2009, Tucker went 9-for-13 with two home runs, six RBIs and four runs scored, as the Gators beat Miami 16-5 to advance to Super Regionals.

In the 2011 Regional, Tucker went 8-for-14 with three home runs, 11 RBI and six runs scored. Six of his eight hits in the Regional were for extra bases.

"I'm seeing the ball well right now," Tucker said. "When Bryson and Nolan are getting on-base over and over again, it puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers. Having guys on-base makes me more comfortable at the plate, and I get better pitches to hit."

Tucker's three run home run gave the Gators an early cushion, but Florida matched its biggest run production in an inning during the third by putting eight runs on the board and batting around for the fourth time in the three-game Regional.

Encinosa fielded a bunt attempt by Florida catcher Mike Zunino with runners on first and second, but his throw to third base was wild and went into the outfield, scoring a run. After Josh Adams executed another sacrifice bunt, Tyler Thompson drove a two-run single up the middle that knocked Encinosa out of the ball game.

The result for Javi Salas wasn't much different.

Daniel Pigott scored Thompson on a double, and Vickash Ramjit then singled in Pigott. After Ramjit stole his second base of the season, Cody Dent moved him to third with a single. Nolan Fontana used a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ramjit, and Bryson Smith moved Dent to second with a single of his own. That's when Tucker drove his double off the wall to score two runs and give the Gators an 11-0 lead.

"Whenever Preston is going, everyone just goes up there and tries to follow him up and put good swings on the ball," Florida starting pitcher Alex Panteliodis said. "(The hitters) just go up there and attack."

Tucker's home run was the seventh of his career in the postseason, tying the school record set by Mario Linares from 1998-91. Tucker tied the record in three years. Tucker also has 26 career RBI in the NCAA Tournament, setting a new school record.

Encinosa's day on the mound was completely different from his first start against the Gators this season. Three months earlier to the day, the sophomore threw seven innings at McKethan Stadium and held the Gators to one run. Florida still won the game 1-0 because of a dominant effort from Hudson Randall, but Encinosa's outing Sunday was the exact opposite of his first start against the Gators. The right-hander lasted 2.1 innings, giving up four hits and seven runs (six earned). He walked three and didn't strike out a batter.

Encinosa had success against the Gators in March by sinking his pitches and creating ground balls from the Florida hitters. On Sunday, his pitches were up and he got hit hard because of it.

"We were just hitting today," Tucker said. "We felt confident coming off the walk-off win Saturday."

After the third inning for the Florida offense, it was on cruise control for the pitching staff.

Alex Panteliodis started on the mound and was dominant. The left-hander went a season-high 6.2 innings, giving up five hits and one run while striking out four hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25 hitters he faced and pounded the strike zone with 50 of his 66 pitches.

The junior became the fourth Florida pitcher in school history to start five NCAA Tournament games.

He beat Miami twice last year, including once in a Super Regional.

"Something just sparks me against them," Panteliodis said. "I don't really like their guys, but they're a great team. They always boost my ego. There's just something about them. They're a great team, but they just spark me. Every year Sully gets on me saying, ‘Come on, it's Miami. Let's go.' I just go give it all I've got."

The Regional win was even more important because the Gators were without two-way players Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox. Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, who became the first coach in Florida history to win three Regionals in his first four seasons, was optimistic about the chances that both are back next weekend.

The win secured Florida's third straight Super Regional appearance, the first time in school history that has been accomplished. Florida will host either Georgia Tech or Mississippi State next weekend.

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