BASEBALL: Gators clinch SEC title with 6-3 win

No. 12 Florida (38-18/20-10 SEC) clinched its first Southeastern Conference championship since 1998 with a 6-3 win over Vanderbilt (34-21/13-17 SEC) on Sunday afternoon at Hawkins Field. Tied at 2-2 entering the ninth, the Gators plated four runs on one hit, three walks, two wild pitches and an error to seize the lead and pave the way for the program's 10th SEC crown and 18th Eastern Division title.

UF secured the top seed for the SEC Tournament and will be in action on Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT at the Hoover Met in Birmingham, Ala., against an opponent to be determined. The bracket will be released tonight once all of the games are complete.

Junior Justin Tordi (Orlando, Fla.) led off the ninth with a single into left and Vanderbilt decided to replace junior Matt Buschmann (4-3) with sophomore Stephen Shao. Junior Stephen Barton (Miami, Fla.) walked on four pitches and senior Jeff Corsaletti (Port Charlotte, Fla.) drew another base on balls to load the sacks with none out. A wild pitch by Shao allowed Tordi to come across with the go-ahead run. After sophomore Adam Davis (Fort Myers, Fla.) flew out to center, sophomore Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) was walked intentionally to load the sacks again. Senior Ryan Rote was called out of the bullpen to face sophomore Brian Jeroloman (Wellington, Fla.) and issued a walk that resulted in a 4-2 lead for the Gators. Freshman Brandon McArthur's (Seffner, Fla.) fielder's choice allowed Corsaletti to score and another wild pitch enabled LaPorta to bring the count to 6-2.

The Commodores answered with a RBI single in the bottom of the ninth by freshman Alex Feinberg to finalize the margin at 6-3. Senior Mike Pete (Brandon, Fla.) raised his mark to 4-0 by going two innings in which he allowed one run and zero hits. Senior Connor Falkenbach (Parkland, Fla.) recorded the final three outs for his eighth save. For Florida, Corsaletti was 3-for-4 with two runs, LaPorta was 2-for-4 and Jeroloman produced a game-high three runs batted in.

Florida put two runners on board in the first against junior Ryan Mullins but could not open the scoring. Corsaletti poked a leadoff single and advanced on a one-out flare into left by LaPorta. After a grounder by Jeroloman put his teammates on second and third, McArthur grounded out.

Jeroloman poked a two-out, two-run single in the third to give the Gators a 2-0 lead. Corsaletti had legged out an infield hit and Davis followed with a walk. With one down, LaPorta lined out to third but his teammates were able to advance on a throwing error when the relay throw over to first went wide of the bag. Jeroloman sliced Mullins' 1-0 offering through the right side to plate two runs and alertly took second on the throw to the plate.

Junior Mike Baxter tied the game, 2-2, in the bottom of the inning with a two-out shot over the right-field wall. It was his ninth four-bagger of the campaign. Boss had retired the first two Commodores before issuing a base-hit up the middle by senior Antoan Richardson.

Florida squandered a golden opportunity in the fifth after loading the bases with none out. Freshman Jared Kubin (Oakton, Va.) opened the stanza with a single and Corsaletti delivered his third hit of the game before Davis was hit by Mullins (4.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 K). Vanderbilt decided to replace the southpaw with Buschmann, who induced a flyout by LaPorta that was converted into a double play when pinch runner Barton was nailed at the plate on a bullet by left fielder Shao. Jeroloman drew a free pass to re-load the bases but McArthur was caught looking on strikes to keep the game deadlocked.

Sophomore Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.) rifled a leadoff double off the 375-mark in left center in the sixth. Buschmann struck out sophomore Gavin Dickey (Tallahassee, Fla.) and had Tordi ground out, nudging Leclerc to third. Soon after, the right-hander retired Barton on a grounder.

UF had another runner cut down at the plate in the seventh, as LaPorta rocked a double off the wall in left and Davis was thrown out trying to score from first. Shao picked up the carom and sent a relay to freshman shortstop Dominic De La Osa, whose throw to junior catcher Brian Hernandez was right on the money. With LaPorta at third and two out, Buschmann had Jeroloman tap out to first, bringing the Gators' number of runners left on base to eight.

Freshman David Macias reached on an error to begin the bottom of the frame, triggering a Florida pitching change. Pete took over for Boss, who allowed five hits and two runs over six innings. The lefty had senior Matt Zeller pop-up a bunt attempt to McArthur before uncorking a wild pitch to push Macias into scoring position. Pete set down freshman Alex Feinberg on an infield fly but then walked Richardson to give the Commodores a pair of runners aboard. Baxter lofted a ball into center that Corsaletti snared for the final out.

The Gators also won SEC championships in 1952, 1956, 1962, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1996 and 1998. UF will be making its 26th appearance at the SEC Tournament, where it enjoyed first-place finishes in 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1991.

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