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|GAME AT A
Point: Preston Tucker’s three-run homer in the fourth inning accounted for all the scoring the Gators needed.
OMAHA—It just took a couple of Vanderbilt mistakes to open an opportunity for Florida. With two teams that are so evenly matched, that’s all the Gators need.
Commodores lefthander Grayson Garvin hung a slider in the fourth inning, and Gators slugger Preston Tucker crushed it. In a College World Series nearly devoid of electric moments not provided by the weather, Tucker delivered the signature shot. His three-run homer propelled the Gators to a 3-1 victory in a game interrupted for 14 hours by weather, and put them control of the bracket.
“It was just the difference in a swing, really,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “Both teams pitched very well the whole entire time . . . It was just a swing, and that is the way the game’s played.”
Tucker’s homer was his second key homer in the last three Gators games, as he also hit a game-winner against Mississippi State in the super regional clincher.
“I think if you’re going to run in the postseason, you need a guy or two to get hot like this,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “You need your special players to play special, that is the bottom line. He’s been able to do that for us.”
Thanks in part to Tucker’s blow, Florida (52-17) doesn’t play again until Friday, when it gets the winner of tomorrow’s elimination game between Vanderbilt (53-11) and North Carolina.
Both Southeastern Conference teams had to wait out a storm that set off tornado sirens in downtown that caused the game to be halted at 8:02 p.m. local time Monday and completed in front of a few hundred friends, family and hard-core fans on Tuesday morning.
Neither team got any offense going after the restart; in fact, neither team had a hit, which was fine by Florida. The Gators made fewer mistakes on the mound behind freshman righthander Karsten Whitson and sophomore lefthander Steve Rodriguez. While Whitson, an unsigned 2010 first-round pick, looked dirty for the first four innings, he got into a spot in the fifth, having allowed a run and leaving with two runners on base with Commodores slugger Aaron Westlake coming to the plate.
While Whitson already had struck out Westlake twice, O’Sullivan didn’t hesitate, bringing in Rodriguez. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound southpaw was in total control thereafter, striking out a career-high seven in 4 1/3 innings to earn the victory. Rodriguez allowed only one baserunner, a walk in the seventh, and befuddled the Commodores with a cutter, slider and fastball that reached 91 mph.
Rodriguez was on the mound when the sirens went off Monday night, retiring Mike Yastrzemski on a fly to left with the sirens blaring and fans heading for cover. After throwing 11 pitches before the delay, he came out and dominated after the restart.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Westlake said. “You’ve got a pretty hard cutter and you complement it with a slider; throws you off balance. Most of the pitches are moving away. He’s the guy that basically against lefties he works away and makes you hit his pitch . . . him and Karsten didn’t give us many pitches to hit yesterday and today, so we’ll give them credit.”
Florida didn’t get much to hit either against SEC pitcher of the year Grayson Garvin, a supplemental first-round pick of the Rays. Garvin retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced before walking Nolan Fontana in the fourth with one out. Mike Zunino followed with a roller into no-man’s land, and Garvin’s attempt to flip the ball to first with his glove went awry for an error.
Tucker came to the plate with runners at first and third and one out, and struck the homer on a 2-1 slider.
“It was actually a slider that I hung (and) good hitters, that’s what they do,” said Garvin, who was otherwise outstanding, striking out nine in six innings. “He should have hit that where he hit it.”
Tucker said he was looking fastball but ready for the slider. “I know how competitive Garvin is,” he said. “He’s going to give me his best stuff. He’s got a real good fastball. He’s throwing his breaking ball pretty well. Every plus count he had on me, he had been throwing me breaking balls . . .
“He had thrown everything in the zone, but he left that one up a little bit.”
It led to the fourth Florida victory in five games between the two teams. The clubs are both talented, both deep and both experienced. It only takes one swing to make a difference.
“Make no bones about it now,” Corbin said. “In order for Florida to beat Vanderbilt, they better be pretty damn good, and they are.”