Gators Clinch SEC Tourney Berth

Florida junior Patrick Keating struck out Vanderbilt junior All-American Pedro Alvarez to end the game with the tying run on second base to preserve the Gators' 5-4 victory on Friday night at McKethan Stadium.

With the triumph, UF (33-20/16-13 SEC) punched a ticket to next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., and secured the weekend series against the No. 13 Commodores (37-17/15-13 SEC).

Sophomore Cole Figueroa belted a three-run homer in the fifth to give the hosts a lead they would not relinquish after battling back from a 3-0 deficit. Junior left-hander Stephen Locke (5-2) scattered 10 hits over seven innings to improve his mark to 3-1 in league action and senior Josh Edmondson registered three-consecutive strikeouts with two VU runners on board in the eighth.

"To come down at the end of the game facing (Pedro) Alvarez is not how you want to finish," head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We knew all along that we might use (Patrick) Keating and were forced to in that situation. He pulled it out for us. It sets us up well for the SEC Tournament because now he can start on Wednesday and give other guys some rest."

"Defensively, we played really well," O'Sullivan continued. "Right fielder Riley (Cooper) has made two or three huge plays for us in the last couple of games. Stealing the home run in the Alabama game, the play last night and his catch tonight were huge. He is getting better every time he goes out there."

"We are really starting to come together," the first-year skipper acknowledged. "We are playing our best baseball of the year right now. Offensively, we have really been clicking for the last couple of weeks. It is nice to see Josh (Edmondson) come back and I think this game should give him a world of confidence going into tournament play."

"The pressure to get to Hoover for the SEC Tournament has been weighing on us all week, so it feels really good to clinch the series and take a little pressure off of us," Figueroa said. "I was just looking for a pitch in the zone to at least get a sac fly. We were down at that point so I just wanted to put the ball in play so we could at least score one run."

Locked in a scoreless pitcher's duel, Vanderbilt plated three runs with two down in the fourth off Locke. Alvarez and junior Ryan Flaherty had consecutive one-out singles and sophomore Andrew Giobbi roped a two-run double into the left-field corner to open the scoring. Senior Alex Feinberg followed with another two-bagger to put the visitors ahead by three runs.

The Gators answered in the bottom of the inning with a two-run, two-out double by sophomore Clayton Pisani to close the gap to 3-2. Freshman Josh Adams drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch from freshman Caleb Cotham. After senior Bryson Barber was hit by a pitch, Pisani tucked his seventh double just inside of the right-field line to score both of his teammates. Freshman Riley Cooper earned a free pass for two runners aboard before Cotham had junior Teddy Foster ground out.

Figueroa cranked a three-homer in the fifth for a 5-3 Florida lead. Junior Avery Barnes led off with a single up the middle and went to third on sophomore Matt den Dekker's second hit. Figueroa stepped to the plate and belted his ninth round-tripper to left field for his third homer in the last four games to put the Gators on top and end the night for Cotham (7-4). The righty worked four innings and allowed five hits and five runs, with four strikeouts and three walks.

Vanderbilt had a chance to edge closer fall by the wayside in the sixth when Barnes gunned down senior Shea Robin attempting to score from second on a two-out single by freshman Curt Casali. Flaherty had started things off with a base-knock into right center but was erased on a fielder's choice by Robin. Feinberg moved his teammate over with a single and Casali sliced a base-hit into left. However, Barnes fired a perfect strike to Foster to close the frame.

Senior Parker Hanks began the seventh with flare into right, only to have Locke induce a 5-4-3 double play on a grounder by senior David Macias. The left-hander fanned senior Dominic de la Osa for his fourth K.

In the eighth, Alvarez roped a leadoff double and Flaherty walked on four pitches to prompt a pitching change. Edmondson relieved Locke (7.0 IP, 10 H, 3 R) and struck out all three batters he faced, Robin, Giobbi and Feinberg, to preserve the lead.

Barber legged out an infield hit with one down in the home part of the stanza and stole second for his first theft of the season. When Pisani was plunked for two runners aboard, Vanderbilt brought in freshman Chase Reid for classmate Mark Lamm (3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R). The righty did his job by fanning Cooper and Foster.

Down to its final two outs, Vanderbilt employed junior Jonathan White as a pinch hitter. He reached on a fielding error by senior first baseman Jon Townsend and moved to third on a single by Macias. Keating replaced Edmondson (1.1 IP) on the hill and had de la Osa ground to Adams, bringing across White, to narrow the gap to 5-4. Keating whiffed Alvarez on a 1-2 pitch to end the ballgame.

The Commodores out-hit the Gators, 11-8, as four players contributed multiple-hit outings. den Dekker was 3-for-4 to lead Florida, which captured a series against Vanderbilt for the first time since 2005. Either sophomore Kyle Mullaney (2-4, 5.54) or freshman Tommy Toledo (4-4, 3.59) will start the finale against Nick Christiani (5-3, 4.37). The game will air live on Sun Sports at 1 p.m. Senior Day festivities will precede the contest.

Courtesy UF Sports Information

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