Vandy Comeback Keeps Florida From Title Game

The Gators were three outs away from playing for back-to-back SEC Tournament titles. With closer Austin Maddox on the mound, Vanderbilt stole six bases in the ninth inning, including stealing home once, while scoring five runs to secure its berth in the SEC Tournament Championship. Florida now returns to Gainesville and waits for the NCAA Tournament bracket to be released on Monday.

The ninth inning was bad from the start. With a 4-3 lead, Austin Maddox allowed a leadoff double to Connor Castellano and was bunted to third base. After a pitch hit Tony Kemp, Mike Yastrzemski used a squeeze bunt to tie the game. Yastrzemski was then thrown out as the trail runner on a double steal, and the Gators were one out from going to the ninth inning with the game tied.

The Commodores continued their run. Anthony Gomez singled to left field to score Kemp and give Vanderbilt the lead. He followed by stealing second, and after Conrad Gregor was intentionally walked, the two runners pulled off a double steal. Florida countered by intentionally walking Spencer Navin to load the bases.

That's when Vanderbilt used its best move. The Commodores executed a triple steal, including Gomez stealing home to give the Commodores another run. Two pitches later, Will Cooper dropped a two-run single into right field to push the Vanderbilt lead to 8-4.

Maddox was trying to tie the school record with his 13th save of the season. Instead, the inning ended after he allowed five runs.

"Austin had a rough outing, but this game will not wait around for anybody feeling bad," Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel said on the post game radio show. "He'll be fine, rebound quickly and be ready for Regionals."

The Gators didn't consider the game over. Florida bounced back and had runners on second and third with two outs after a double by Mike Zunino. Brian Johnson and Daniel Pigott each had back-to-back RBI singles to cut the defecit to 8-6. Casey Turgeon singled to load the bases, but Justin Shafer flew out with the bases loaded to end the game.

"I liked the way we came back," Weitzel said. "We fought like crazy. We had to get three base runners to have a chance, and we actually brought the winning run to the plate with the tying run on second. I was really proud of the kids for doing that because they put us right back in the game."

Karsten Whitson started on the mound but wasn't sharp. The sophomore lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up five hits, three runs (two earned), two walks and zero strikeouts. He was pulled after loading the bases with one out in the third inning.

Greg Larson came in to pitch and induced a ground ball down the third base line. Freshman Josh Tobias made a diving play down the line, stepped on third and threw across to first base to complete the double play.

"They had momentum and bases loaded," Weitzel said. "Larson came in and got the ground ball. Tobias made an outstanding play, touched the bag and threw for a double play."

The momentum from that double play carried over into Florida's half of the inning when Brian Johnson used a two-run double to tie the game at three.

The Gators now head back to Gainesville and wait until the NCAA Tournament selection show on ESPNU at noon Monday. Florida will still likely be a national seed and play all of its games at home before the College World Series.

Weitzel is hoping his teams veterans take over as the Gators head into the postseason.

"I don't think you have to say anything," he said. "The thing about the last inning is that it was a mixture of older kids and younger kids getting into the act. We came back and scared them to death. That was a great effort on our part.

"The second season—I hope it lasts forever and goes all the way here. We're going to be better next weekend because we're going to work hard all week to get ready. We'll be ready for Regionals."

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