The good news continued for Gator Nation on Sunday as No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (45-16) brought home their second league title of the season, capturing the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament championship for the first time since 1991 with a 5-0 victory over the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores (47-10) at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.
Florida triumphed behind a gutsy performance by junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis (5-2), who struck out five and scattered five hits in 5.1 scoreless innings. Junior left fielder Daniel Pigott, named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, finished the contest 2-3 with a RBI, run scored and stolen base.
"It all started on the mound for us, and Alex did a great job for us," UF head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said after the game. "We knew we would have to pitch well to get on top of Vanderbilt. The ball bounced our way early on. It's time to move on and enjoy this today, but get ready for the tournament in a week."
The Gators got going early Sunday, plating a pair of runs in the bottom of the second. A sacrifice bunt by sophomore third baseman Cody Dent scored redshirt sophomore first baseman Vickash Ramjit due to a throwing error by the Commodores. Pigott advanced to third and came home on the very next play when sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana grounded out.
Panteliodis kept Florida's early 2-0 lead alive, leaving runners stranded in nearly every inning he pitched before being pulled for junior right-handed reliever Greg Larson.
"I got in some jams, but the team helped me through it," Panteliodis said, "and even coach told me to take my time and make the pitches and if they hit it to let them hit it and let the defense do its job."
The Gators took advantage of the great pitching by increasing their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker fouled out to deep right with runners on first and third, scoring Fontana and putting Florida ahead 3-0.
Junior LHP Nick Mardone replaced Larson and did not allow a single hit in two full innings, leaving the Gators three outs away from the title. Before they could claim the trophy, Florida added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. With the bases loaded and no outs, Vanderbilt's Jack Armstrong hit Pigott and walked Dent, allowing two runs to cross the plate and giving the Gators a 5-0 advantage headed into the ninth.
Sophomore right-hander Austin Maddox entered, allowed two runners to get on base, but registered the final three outs of the game to collect his sixth save of the season and send Florida to their sixth SEC Tournament championship in school history.
Gators joining Pigott on the SEC All-Tournament Team were Fontana and RHP Hudson Randall, each of whom played outstanding throughout the week.
Florida, which finished the regular season as tri-champions with Vanderbilt and South Carolina, could very well be the No. 1 overall seed when the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket is announced on Monday. McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL will host regional action, as announced by the NCAA on Sunday.