Auburn (Second Round)
In their first game of the tournament, the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (41-15) defeated the No. 8 Auburn Tigers (35-23) by a score of 5-4 in late night affair.
Taking the mound for his first Wednesday start of the season was junior ace Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.80 ERA). The right-hander had a rough going in his first outing against Auburn on March 17th. It was his shortest start of the year as he threw 4.1 innings and gave up six earned runs while walking six batters.
This time around, Faedo got his revenge. He delivered six strong innings against the Tigers while allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits, striking out seven, and walking two. With no outs in the seventh inning and runners on first and second, Faedo would be pulled with the Gators leading 4-0.
Out of the bullpen came senior right-hander Frank Rubio. He got one out on a fielder's choice before being removed for junior left-hander Nick Horvath. Now here's where the fun begins.
Auburn plated their first run on a throwing error from third baseman Jonathan India that took first baseman JJ Schwarz off the bag. A fly out would give the Gators two outs in the inning before a walk loaded the bases.
As cleanup man Conor Davis stepped up to bat, a torrential downpour hit the field. Play would not be stopped, however. With the count 0-1, Davis smacked double down the right field line to trim the Gator lead to 4-3.
Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan had seen enough and took out Horvath for freshman right-hander Tyler Dyson. With the count 0-1 on Dyson's first batter, trouble struck again as he spiked a ball past catcher Mike Rivera.
Auburn's Dylan Ingram came scrambling home and the game was tied at 4-4 with the go-ahead run for Auburn now at third base. Dyson would settle down though, and struck out Josh Anthony to finally put the inning to rest.
In the top of the eighth, Dyson was back out there and worked a perfect inning to keep the game tied. After the Gators pushed one across in the bottom half of the inning, it was Michael Byrne time. Eying a school record 14th save, the sophomore closer took the field with history in his grasp and a 5-4 lead.
He began the inning with a strikeout before giving up a single. Even with the tying run on base, Byrne remained focused. He induced a fly out before striking out Dylan Ingram looking to clinch the victory and the record.
Tyler Dyson would be awarded just his second win of his career while Byrne cemented himself in UF lore as the new record-holder for saves in a season. I offer my congratulations to Michael!
Offensively, the Gators banged out nine hits while plating five runs to beat Auburn. They scored once in the third, three times in the fourth, and once more in the eighth to bring home the win. Before highlighting the offensive dignitaries, here's the rundown of the game-winning rally in the eighth inning:
Tied at 4-4 entering the bottom half of the frame, Austin Langworthy went down swinging for the first out. JJ Schwarz then singled and Nick Horvath walked in his first at-bat of the game. Jonathan India then singled to load the bases.
All eyes were now on Christian Hicks as he walked to the batter's box with the bases juiced. Hicks would deliver, as he worked a five-pitch walk to give Florida the 5-4 lead. Blake Reese would pinch-hit for Tyler Dyson and ground into a double play to end the threat.
Two Gators had multiple hits while all but two starters registered a base knock in this one. Out of the three-hole, junior first baseman JJ Schwarz went 2-3 with a double, two runs scored, and a walk. Two spots down, sophomore third baseman Jonathan India went 2-4 with a run scored and an RBI single in the fourth inning.
For the rest of the Gator lineup, senior outfielder Ryan Larson went 1-4 out of the leadoff spot. In the six-hole, junior shortstop Christian Hicks was the leading RBI man for Florida. He drove in a pair of runs with an RBI double in the fourth inning and his game-winning walk in the eighth. On the night, he went 1-3 with those two RBI's, a run scored, and one of just three Gator walks.
Right after Hicks, junior designated hitter Mark Kolozsvary went 1-3 with an RBI single in the fourth that scored the Gator shortstop. Kolo would be pulled in the seventh as the DH role was wiped from Florida's lineup with Tyler Dyson coming in to pitch.
After Kolo, was junior catcher Mike Rivera. This was his first game action since April 11th against Florida State, where he sustained a wrist injury. Back better than ever, Rivera went 1-3 and scored the game's first run in the third inning.
Rounding out the Gator lineup was sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput. Plating Rivera in the second inning, Liput went 1-3 with an RBI single.
For those who may have forgotten, Auburn had swept Florida in their first SEC series of the season. The Gators did a good job wiping that weekend from their memories and coming out to defeat the Tigers in their first game of the SEC Tournament.
With this win in the books, the Gators would get the day off before their noon quarterfinal matchup against Mississippi State. Before recapping that game, here are my final tidbits on the Gators' second round victory:
- This is the first time since 2012 that the Florida Gators have not lost their opening game in the SEC Tournament.
- This is Florida's 17th one-run victory of the year, which is the most in D-1 baseball.
- This is JJ's 15th and India's 12th multi hit game of the year.
- JJ's double gives him 11 on the year while Hicks now has nine for the season.
- With his second punch out of the night in the second inning, Alex Faedo notched the 300th strikeout of his career!
- This is the sixth no decision of the year for Faedo.
- With his record 14th save of the season, Michael Byrne breaks a four-way tie that that he held with former Gator greats Danny Wheeler, Josh Fogg, and Shaun Anderson.
- Florida and Auburn had one error a piece. Florida's miscue was the India throw and Auburn's came in the third inning when second baseman Jay Estes dropped a Mike Rivera pop up. This would prove costly as Rivera would eventually score to make it 1-0 Florida.
- Auburn's offensive stars were junior center fielder Jonah Todd (3-5 with a run scored and an RBI), right fielder Daniel Robert (2-5), and freshman designated hitter Conor Davis (1-4 with two RBI's).
- Though tagged with the loss, Auburn junior reliever Calvin Coker was a force out of the bullpen. At one point, the right-hander struck out five straight Gator hitters!
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
Mississippi State (Quarterfinals)
In the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (42-15) obliterated the No. 5 seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs (36-23) by a score of 11-3.
On the mound for Florida was the undefeated Jackson Kowar (11-0, 3.74 ERA). Though giving up one run in the fourth through sixth innings, the sophomore right-hander was able to save the Florida bullpen as he threw seven innings.
Of the Bulldogs' three runs, only two were earned as Kowar allowed nine hits while striking out five. He did not give Mississippi State too many extra chances as he walked one, but hit two batters for the second straight game.
When Jackson left the game, Florida held an 11-3 lead going into the bottom half of the eighth. Talk about run support! In his place came Tyler Dyson for the second straight game. It was a shakier outing for the freshman, as he gave up back-to-back singles and walked the bases loaded.
Sully was not about to give Miss State the chance to come back, so he pulled for Dyson for Michael Byrne. Riding the momentum from his record-breaking save, Byrne struck out the side to end the Bulldog threat.
He would return for the ninth with Florida now up 12-3, but only for one batter. After Byrne induced a fly out, Sully pulled him and called on Frank Rubio to mercifully end this one. Frank would do just that, as he allowed a harmless single in-between two ground outs to bring this one home. It would be win No. 11 for Jackson Kowar.
Thanks to that eighth inning, Florida was able to bang out 12 hits while scoring their most runs in an inning this year. Since the Gator did trail 3-0 with six outs remaining in the ballgame, I will break down how the Gators scored 11 runs in the eighth. So buckle up because this is going to be a doozy:
With time running out, the Gators needed to get something cooking quick to avoid playing a double-header. Christian Hicks kicked things off with a single to right field. After a Miss State pitching change, Mike Rivera drew a walk. As Garrett Milchin came in to pinch-hit for Keenan Bell, Miss State made their second pitching change of the inning.
Milchin would strike out for the first out of the inning before Blake Reese singled to load the bases. Deacon Liput was now up, and he delivered with an RBI single to make it 3-1 Miss State. With JJ Schwarz up to bat, a wild pitch would make it 3-2 and move runners to second and third. Miss State head coach Andy Cannizaro decided to take his chances and just intentionally walked Schwarz to load the bases.
Nelson Maldonaldo would strike out for the second out, and it looked like Miss State's strategy was going to work. Jonathan India came to bat, and drew a walk to tie the game at 3-3. The spotlight was now on Austin Langworthy with two outs and the bases loaded. The freshman would deliver, as he singled to left field to plate two runs and make it 5-3 Gators.
After the third pitching change of the inning, Christian Hicks was back up and drew a walk to load the bases again. Mike Rivera then drew his second walk of the inning to make it 6-3 Florida. After the fourth Miss State pitching change of the inning, Garrett Milchin redeemed himself with a single to right field that made it 8-3 Florida.
Austin Bodrato would pinch run for Milchin with Rivera on third and proceeded to nab his first collegiate stolen base. Blake Reese would then walk to yet again load the bases for Florida. With Deacon Liput up, the floodgates opened up as he cleared the bases with a double to left center. It was now 11-3 Florida.
After the fifth Miss State pitching change of the inning, JJ Schwarz would fly out to center field to end the chaos. All in all, Florida sent 14 men to the plate in the eighth inning. The Gators drew six walks and had six base knocks as all 11 runs came with TWO outs in the inning.
Even though Florida blew the doors off Miss State, only three Gators had multiple hits in the contest. As the surprise cleanup man in this one, Deacon Liput took the lineup change and ran with it. He went 2-5 with a double, a run scored, and four RBI's.
Two spots down, sophomore right fielder Nelson Maldonaldo regained his swing as he went 2-5 with a pair of singles. Finally, the man with the most hits for Florida resided in the seven-hole. This was none other than Christian Hicks. Achieving three base knocks for the fourth time this season, Hicks went 3-4 with two runs scored and a walk.
For the remainder of the Gator lineup, every starter except Ryan Larson, Jonathan India, Mike Rivera, and Keenan Bell had at least one hit. Granted, Larson and Bell were pulled for pinch hitters in the first and eighth innings, respectively.
Funny enough though, it was the pinch hitter for Larson's pinch hitter who recorded a base knock. This would be Blake Reese, who went 1-2 with two runs scored and a walk. Austin Langworthy's lone hit would be his go-ahead double in the eighth as he went 1-4 with a run scored, two RBI's, and a walk.
The last of the Gators with one hit was Garrett Milchin. As stated earlier in the article, he notched his lone hit in his second at-bat of the eighth inning. He finished 1-2 with two RBI's. I am not done with the Gator offense though, as I have some love to give the hitless pair of Jonathan India and Mike Rivera.
India went 0-2, but did score twice, drove in a run, and drew two walks in the game. Likewise, Rivera was 0-2 as Florida's designated hitter, but he also scored twice and drew two walks in the game. What makes him different from India is that he also drove in a pair of runs via his eighth inning walk and ninth inning sac fly.
This is the second straight year that Florida has trounced Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament. In an elimination game in last year's tourney, the Gators run-ruled the Bulldogs as they won the game 12-2 in seven innings.
Florida's offense was on another planet in that eighth inning, and I hoped they enjoyed it as things would take a drastic turn in the following game. Before recapping the debacle that was the semifinals, here are my final tidbits on Florida's dominating quarterfinal victory:
- This is the eighth game this season where Florida has scored double-digit runs.
- Deacon Liput's double was his ninth of the season.
- Mike Rivera's sacrifice fly was his first of the year.
- This was Liput's 11th, Nelly's 15th, and Hicks' 16th multi-hit game of the year.
- SEC Player of the Year and triple crown candidate Brent Rooker went 0-5 with two strikeouts against Florida. Don't let that fool you though, he is still VERY good.
- JJ Schwarz threw out his seventh runner of the season on a "strike em' out throw em' out" double play in the seventh inning.
- Both Ryan Larson and Nick Horvath exited this game with injuries.
- Miss State's offensive stars were junior shortstop Ryan Gridley (2-4 with a walk), sophomore second baseman Hunter Stovall (3-5 with a run scored), sophomore designated hitter Hunter Vansau (2-3 with a double, triple, and two RBI's), and sophomore left fielder Elijah MacNamee (2-3).
- Florida recorded the lone error in this game, as Keenan Bell misplayed a ball at first base in the fourth inning. This would hurt Florida as that run would eventually score to make it 1-0 Miss State.
- The eighth inning implosion of the Miss State bullpen in the eighth put a damper on an excellent start from redshirt sophomore Cole Gordon (2-1, 4.59 ERA). The 6'5 right-hander tossed seven beautiful innings while allowing one earned run on four hits, striking out seven, and plunking Ryan Larson and Jonathan India.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
What's great about baseball is how the sport gives and takes at will. Keep that in mind as I break down the 16-0 beatdown that the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (42-16) suffered at the hands of the No. 4 seeded Arkansas Razorbacks (42-16) in the SEC semifinals.
Sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (7-4, 3.37 ERA) got the start in this one and had the shortest outing of his collegiate career. In one official inning of work, Singer allowed eight earned runs on seven hits. Of those seven, three of them were home runs.
Singer struck no one out and walked two batters as Florida entered the bottom of the first down 5-0. When Singer was pulled, it was 8-0 Arkansas and with the Gators' sporadic offense it looked like this one was already decided.
Even though they were down eight, the Gators had to keep fighting. On to pitch after Singer's departure was freshman right-hander Nate Brown. With the bases clear and no outs, Brown struck out a batter before giving up a single and surrendering a walk. He would prevent anymore damage, however, as he induced a pop up and fly out to end the frame.
In the third inning, freshman left-hander Andrew Baker came on for Brown. After a leadoff walk, he settled down and retired the next three batters to keep Arkansas off the board for the first time. In the fourth, things reverted to status quo for the Razorbacks.
A walk followed by the fourth home run of the day would push the lead to 10-0. Baker would be done not much later after allowing a single and walking his third batter of the afternoon. It was now freshman right-hander Kirby McMullen's turn for mop-up duty.
Working with no outs and two men on, Kirby generated a double play and got a ground out to limit the damage. In the fifth, Kirby got another ground out before walking a man and giving up a double to put runners on second and third. He would be removed after registering his only strikeout of the day for the second out.
Out of the bullpen now came the 6'7 freshman left-hander Cole Maye. In just his fifth appearance of the season, he allowed a single that plated both runs (which were charged to Kirby) to extend the lead to 12-0. It wasn't over yet though.
Maye would walk a man and give up a single which Arkansas scored on due to an error from Christian Hicks at shortstop. With the score 13-0 and runners on second and third, Maye spiked a pitch past Mark Kolozsvary to push the lead 14-0. A fly out would end the madness.
In the sixth, junior JUCO transfer David Lee entered for his second appearance of the season. He would load the bases on THREE hit by pitches, but was somehow able to not surrender a run while notching one strikeout in the frame.
In the seventh and final inning, Tyler Dyson was back for his third straight game. He would register three strikeouts, but also gave up two runs on three hits while hitting a batter to make it 16-0 Arkansas. As expected, Singer was tagged with a hard 'L' in this one as he fell to 7-4 on the year.
Florida had two hits in this game with no one reaching third base... So to save the tidbits some space I am going to talk about Arkansas's offensive performers right here. But of course, let me get to the Gators first.
Florida's two hits came from Jonathan India (1-3 with a double) and Austin Langworthy (1-3) in the top two spots of the lineup. India's double occurred in the third inning and was his team-leading 12th two-bagger of the season. Langworthy's base knock led off the sixth inning. For what it's worth, Nelson Maldonaldo, Kolo, and Mike Rivera all drew a walk in the contest.
Now for Arkansas, they handed Florida both their first shutout and worst loss of the season. Four Razorbacks had multiple base knocks as they pummeled Florida's pitching for 15 hits.
First was sophomore outfielder Eric Cole. Out of the leadoff spot, Cole went 3-4 with a two-run home run, three runs scored, two RBI's, and a walk. Behind Cole in the two-hole, future MLB draft pick Chad Spanberger murdered the baseball today.
The junior first baseman went 3-6 with two home runs, a double, and three RBI's. His first home run was a two-run bomb in the first inning and his second was a solo shot in the second inning. His second homer was also a back-to-back blast with Eric Cole.
In the five-hole, freshman center fielder Dominic Fletcher went 3-4 with a two-run home run, three runs scored, a game-high four RBI's, and a walk. Rounding out the Arky heavy hitters, sophomore shortstop Jax Biggers went 3-4 with a trio of singles, a run scored, three RBI's, and a walk.
This was the worst loss that Florida has ever suffered in the SEC Tournament. That aside, the Gator fans saying that "Singer should be removed from the rotation" or that "the Gators don't deserve a national seed" need to take their fair-weathered attitudes somewhere else.
Singer threw a gem against Kentucky to help Florida clinch the SEC regular season title. He had an off day. It is that simple. No pitcher can be perfect all the time. This guy is most likely going to be Florida's ace next year. Just because he did not particularly throw well against Arkansas does not mean he should be barred from throwing the rest of the postseason. That is plain asinine and ridiculous.
For the "Florida does not deserve a national seed" argument, just be quiet. This team won the most competitive conference in college baseball and lost to the No. 13 ranked team in a best-of-one matchup. Let's not forget that Arkansas blew the doors off Auburn by a score of 12-0 and won a rematch over Mississippi State by a final of 9-2 in an elimination game.
My point is that Arkansas is a good ball club. They might be hosting a regional when it's all said and done. This is the second best team in the SEC West we are talking about here! The Gators have enough wins over ranked opponents and enough series victories to ensure they will be hosting as a national seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
With my personal thoughts aside, here are my final tidbits on this semifinal blowout:
- This is the fifth time in school history that Florida has been shut out in an SEC Tournament game.
- The Gators allowed a season-high four home runs in this game.
- This is the fifth time this season that Florida has given up double-digit runs in a game.
- This is Florida's second consecutive loss against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. The first was a 7-6 defeat in the second round of the 2015 SEC Tournament.
- Arkansas's 16 runs is a new school record for runs scored in an SEC Tournament game.
- This is the first time since 2005 that Florida has been run-ruled in the SEC Tournament. Back then it was a 14-1 loss to Ole Miss, which stood as the worst Florida loss in the tourney until this year.
- Florida used seven pitchers in the contest, with all but Brown and Lee allowing at least one run.
- This is Florida's second double-digit loss of the season (14-3 to Auburn on March 17th).
- Once again, Florida made the lone error in the game on the Christian Hicks hiccup in the fifth inning. Florida made a total of three errors in the tournament and one in every game.
- Razorback pitcher Kacey Murphy (5-0, 3.32 ERA) threw a gem in this abbreviated contest. The sophomore left-hander allowed just two hits while striking out eight and walking three in his complete game shutout.
- This loss prevents Florida from facing LSU in a fourth consecutive SEC Tournament. To me, this championship matchup would have unofficially established the true regular season champion.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
With SEC play over for the time being, the No. 4 ranked Florida Gators (42-16) will await their fate as regional hosts are announced at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday evening. I would like to assume that Florida will get a national seed. If somehow they don't, they will at the very least host a regional at the Mac for the fourth straight season.
Game times and dates for the Gators will be announced later in the week. Until regional action starts, stay tuned for my upcoming article predicting the winner of the College World Series!
As for No. 4 seeded Arkansas (42-16), they will play for the second SEC Tournament championship in school history against No. 2 seeded LSU (42-17). The Razorbacks dropped the series to the Tigers at home, which ultimately cost them an SEC regular season title. Game time is set for 3 p.m. and it can be seen on ESPN2.
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