SEC Champs! Gators topple Vandy to claim 7th SEC Tournament crown

imageYou can call this team inconsistent, you can call them wild. You can call them heart-wrenching or you can call them exciting to watch. And you can call them lucky, or you can call them good.

But you must call them champions.

Florida survived two rain delays that totaled nearly three hours, jumped on Vanderbilt early and held on for a 7-3 win in the SEC Championship Game. It’s the second time in five years that Florida’s beaten Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship Game, and it’s the third time they’ve beaten Vandy this year in four games.

Harrison Bader delivered an early omen that this was Florida’s night…

 

 

…and though Vandy was able to string together some hits and score a couple of runs, there was never really the sense (at least to me) that Florida was in any danger. Following Bader’s homer, Buddy Reed singled, and eventually scored on Peter Alonso’s single to put Vandy down 2-0 before they even came to bat. The ‘Dores got one back the cheap way, on a wild pitch with a runner on third, but the Gators waited out a 40 minute rain delay and then responded with two more in the top of the second on an RBI double from Reed and then an RBI single from Josh Tobias. An inning later, the Gators added another on an RBI single from Jeremy Vasquez.

So Vandy was down 5-1 just like that, and never really recovered. They wound up using four pitchers, none of which were particularly effective and the first three of which surrendered a combined 13 hits. There was the faintest, slightest glimmer of hope for the Dores when they cut the Florida lead to 5-3 in the 4th, and had first and third with two outs, but that was gone in a matter of minutes as Danny Young came in in relief and coaxed a groundout to end the inning and the Gators retaliated with two more runs their very next trip up. That made it 7-3, and Florida cruised from there to the title.

Oh, and as a footnote to all that, Florida did it without their starting second baseman and leadoff man, Dalton Guthrie. He hurt himself yesterday against LSU, but UF says he’ll be fine for the NCAA Tournament and that sitting him was just for precautionary purposes.

This relatively easy win was a stark contrast to Florida’s SEC semifinal win over LSU, of course, but these days, the Gators seem to find a different way to win each day. And that’s fine and dandy with me, because that’s the name of the game in the NCAA Tournament.

If there’s one thing to be wary of as we head towards the games that matter most, it’s that Florida needs to stop losing the first game of every weekend, as they’ve done each of the last five weeks (series against Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Auburn and their first game of the SEC Tournament against Arkansas). With the hungry teams they’ll face in Regional and Super Regional play… they just can’t afford that. They simply cannot waste Logan Shore’s start, and rely on the rest of their pitching staff to bail them out. I’d much rather not need all those extra arms and save them for a potential marathon extra inning game against a good team much later down the road.

Then again, Florida seems to find ways to win when it matters most. And in the NCAA Tournament, each game you play is the most important game of the season. So based on the multitude of ways I’ve seen Florida win games this year, I’m confident that the Gators will be able to make a deep run this postseason.