It is all cheers in Gainesville after the #4 seeded Florida Gators defeated the #2 seeded Vanderbilt Commodores 7-3 for the program's seventh SEC Tournament Championship this past Sunday. It took nearly six hours due to weather delays, but a little after 11 p.m. Eastern Time first baseman Peter Alonso fielded a ground ball and stepped on first base to clinch the Gators' first tournament title since 2011.
The bullpen was once again a major factor as starter Eric Hanhold went 2.1 innings. He threw a total of 40 pitches while striking out one of 11 batters and giving up two earned runs. After Hanhold's exit, the combined relief effort of Aaron Rhodes, Danny Young, Shaun Anderson, and Kirby Snead would allow just one more Vanderbilt run.
Rhodes allowed the one run in 1.1 innings as he faced seven batters and struck out three of them. Young picked up the win and worked a solid 3.1 innings as he also struck out three of the 12 batters he faced. Anderson struck out the only batter he faced before Snead came in and struck out three of his seven batters on route to closing the game out. In total, the bullpen combined for a dominating 10-strikeout performance!
I said in my previous article that the Gators needed their starter to eat up innings if they wanted to beat Vandy, but I was proven wrong today. However, I still believe that it helps the bullpen out tremendously if a Gator starter can AT LEAST go five innings. Regardless, a win is a win and I will gladly accept this one.
Offensively, the Gators banged out 14 hits against the Commodores! Harrison Bader, batting out of the leadoff spot for just the ninth time in his career due to Dalton Guthrie's wrist injury, kicked off the Gator scoring early as he smashed a 3-2 pitch over the left field wall for a leadoff home run. This would be his only hit of the game, but it was huge as it provided the offensive spark that Florida needed to take home the SEC crown.
Four Gators had two hits. They were senior Josh Tobias, sophomore Peter Alonso, freshman JJ Schwarz, and freshman Jeremy Vasquez. Of those four, Tobias and Alonso had one RBI a piece while Vazquez had two RBIs to lead the team on the day.
The final offensive standout I would like to recognize is Buddy Reed, who broke out and notched three hits in the game. The sophomore center fielder made good use of his time on the bases as he stole his 17th bag and scored two runs. He and Bader were the only two Gators to score twice in the game.
The weather may have been ugly but the result was pretty. The Florida Gators are SEC Champions! After barely missing out on an SEC East title by just a single game to Vandy, Florida got the ultimate revenge! I remember watching the Gators lose a shocker to Arkansas and being so mad that they had to fight through the loser's bracket to even get to this spot. This team showed fight and resolve though, and after downing Auburn, Arkansas, and LSU, the stage was set for an epic title game duel against Vandy.
Great offense and a dynamic bullpen performance were the two main reasons why the Gators are SEC Champions. If they now desire to be NATIONAL Champions, Florida will need these facets to keep clicking in addition to their starters pitching longer outings and the defense making the routine plays. The Gators have a makeup of a National Championship team, and tomorrow I will give my opinion on how far they go when the 64-team field is announced on Memorial Day for the National Tournament.
Congrats to the Florida Gator baseball team! 2015 SEC Tournament Champions! Go Gators!
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com