Gators Rip ‘Canes to Enter Winner's Bracket

The Florida Gators spotted Miami an early 2-0 lead and then took over the game for an 8-2 win to move within one win of a berth in an NCAA Super Regional next weekend. Stephen Locke tossed seven-plus innings without giving up an earned run and Jonathan Pigott homered to lead the Gators to their first win over Miami in four tries this season.

One thing that more than 25 years of following the NCAA Baseball Tournament has taught me is that if you want to keep playing you need to stay out of the loser's bracket as long as possible. Well, the Gators accomplished that goal Saturday night. Miami (or Jacksonville) now has to win twice on Sunday and again on Monday in order to win the Regional and advance to Super Regional play next weekend.

After two scoreless innings, the Hurricanes took advantage of a Gator error to score two unearned runs in the third. After Florida starter Stephen Locke walked Ted Blackman, Nathan Melendres sacrificed but was safe on an error by Gator first baseman Preston Tucker. Scott Lawson sacrificed the runners to second and third and Ryan Jackson plated the first run of the night with a sac fly. Jason Haggerty followed with an RBI single to make it a 2-0 score.

It quickly looked like it was going to be a back-and-forth kind of game when the Gators answered in the bottom of the inning. The bottom two hitters in the Florida lineup, Teddy Foster and Mike Mooney received walks from ‘Canes starter Chris Hernandez. Avery Barnes sacrificed and all were safe when Hernandez unsuccessfully tried to get Foster at third base. Jonathan Pigott followed with an infield hit to score a run and Preston Tucker's single to right tied the game. With the bases loaded and no one out Josh Adams grounded into a double play that scored Barnes and gave the Gators the lead. Matt den Dekker followed with a perfectly executed drag bunt single that scored Pigott making it a 4-2 game.

Locke made those runs stand up through the middle innings. The senior lefty allowed a single in the fifth inning and two base hits in the sixth, but go out of that trouble by inducing Harold Martinez to ground into an inning ending double play.

The Gators added to their lead in the bottom of the sixth. Adams opened the inning with a line drive to right field that seemed to fool Miami's Dave DiNatale and went over his head for a double. After a den Dekker grounder sent Adams to third Brandon McArthur made it 5-2 with a double. Daniel Pigott was hit by a pitch and Teddy foster chased Hernandez with an RBI single making it 6-2. The Gators tried to squeeze a run home but Mooney's bunt wasn't very good and Pigott was out at the plate.

The Gators tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Jonathon Pigott smacked his sixth home run of the season leading off the inning. It was his fourth HR of the postseason including three in the SEC Tournament. Tucker followed with a double, but the Gators couldn't bring him around.

Miami tried to make a game of it in the eighth when with one out Jackson singled and Haggerty walked prompting Florida Coach Kevin O'Sullivan to replace Locke after 7 1/3 outstanding innings. Freshman Nick Maronde came in to strike out Yasmani Grandal and Chris Herrmann to put an end to the threat.

The Gators added another run in the eighth on an RBI infield hit from Barnes scoring Tyler Thompson. O'Sullivan then turned to his closer, Billy Bullock to finish off the win.

The Gators (41-20) will be back in action Sunday at 6:30 against the winner of the 1:00 game between J-U and Miami. If the Gators win they will host Super Regional play next weekend. If not, they will be back at McKethan Stadium Monday night at 6:30 for a winner-take-all Regional final.

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