The win, the eighth in a row for Tim Corbin's ball club, put the seventh-seeded Commodores (42-16) into the tournament championship game against South Carolina Sunday at 3 p.m. CT (Fox Sports Net).
A small but vivacious contingent of Commodore fans at the Hoover Met were treated to a thee-and-a-half hour classic that offered enough memorable moments for 20 games. McGraner's hit was the capper, but it was a contest much like a great heavyweight fight, with neither team able to deliver the knockout until the bottom of the 12th.
"That game right there was possibly the best game I have ever been around in terms of being able to come back and just steal momentum away from the other team and will ourselves to a victory," Corbin said. "I'm just very proud of our team overall."
Mansolino was instantly swarmed by happy Commodores. But after assaulting Mansolino, the jublilant mob turned to find McGraner, the .256 hitter who had delivered the blow of his Vanderbilt career.
As big as McGraner's hit was, Warner Jones' ground-rules double with two out in the bottom of the 11th was probably more clutch. With Vandy down 5-3 and the sacks full of Commodores, the SEC batting champ sent a shot to left-center that bounded over the wall for a ground-rules double, scoring Garza and Zach Simpson.
"At first, I didn't really know what was going on when I rounded first base," said Jones. "All I wanted to do was hit the ball hard and hope for it to land somewhere. When I got to second base, I saw the umpires waving their hands in the air, and I didn't know if we had gotten an out or what. I couldn't tell if the cheers were ours or Florida's."
If Vandy's first two tournament games (a 6-0 shutout of Georgia Wednesday, followed by a 3-0 shoutout of Florida Thursday) had been rather devoid of suspense-- this game more than made up for them.
Ryan Klosterman, continuing his torrid hitting in the postseason, led off the bottom of the first with a towering home run to left that put Vandy on top 1-0. But Florida, needing a win to avoid elimination and hoping to force a second game later Saturday, touched up starter Matt Buschmann for two runs in the second to take a 2-1 lead. Those two runs were the first scored against VU pitching in this year's tournament.
Buschmann would settle down, however, and have no more trouble until the ninth inning. From the third through the eighth innings, he allowed only two hits and kept the Gators scoreless.
Vanderbilt strung together three hits and a walk for two more runs in the third inning to take the lead back at 3-2, a score that would hold up until the ninth. Though Buschmann was turning in a masterful pitching performance, the Commodore offense was stranding men on base and was unable to press its advantage.
Then came the fateful ninth. Gator center fielder Adam Davis reached base on a perfectly placed bunt, and Ben Harrison doubled off the wall. Antoan Richardson mishandled the carom, allowing Davis to score and tie the game at 3-3.
With two outs and the go-ahead run at third, Corbin put in Ryan Rote to close the inning. The right-handed flamethrower got the job done, striking out Stephen Barton and getting Matt LaPorta to fly out. The Commodores put runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn't score.
Rote appeared to be cruising in the 11th inning, but Florida abruptly broke the tie when a Barton single scored Davis from second. Three batters later, the Gators were taking a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 11th, and were three outs away from forcing a second Saturday game.
But the Commodores loaded up the bases for Jones, who clouted the double off reliever Bryan Ball that tied the game at 5-5. After Cesar Nicolas was intentionally walked to load the bases, reliever Steven Porter got Mike Baxter to ground out to keep the affair going for another inning.
Jensen Lewis pitched the 12th for Vandy and allowed one base hit, but struck out two. Cesar Nicolas was 3-for-4 batting with a pair of doubles. Freshman Aaron Garza, who entered late in the game in left field, was 2-for-2.
"If I had to think through that game and try to come up with a list of all the big plays, I don't think I could limit it to just one or two," said Corbin. "We had big plays happening left and right."
Florida (40-20) now heads back to Gainesville to await its NCAA fate.
"You saw a one and two seed today. That's how close these teams are," said Gator coach Pat McMahon. "There are eight number one seeds in this tournament."
The winner of Sunday's tournament championship game earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament-- but these amazing Commodores don't really have to worry about getting in at this point. They're focused on winning the school's first SEC Tournament championship since 1980, and its second in history.
"These guys never lost confidence, even when we were down," Corbin said. "I'm proud of them, and we have a big game ahead of us tomorrow."