HOOVER, Alabama -- The 4-seed Commodores advance to the SEC Tournament Championship game after piling on 12 hits to snag an 11-6 semifinal win, snapping their five-game losing streak to 2-seed Florida that dated back to last season during which they scored a combined 10 runs.
Vanderbilt has scored 12 runs in the first inning of its SEC Tournament games this year, tying for the second-most by a team in a single tournament.
Parker Noland, Chris Maldonado, Jonathon Vastine and Alan Espinal each log multi-hit performances and amass five of the Commodores' eight RBI.
"Just being able to go out there and really establish a tone from the beginning of the game, move the ball around, some good things happened for us, so that was probably the biggest difference," the Commodores' center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. said about facing Florida's Jac Caglianone.
Starter JD Thompson strikes out six but gives up eight hits during his 4 2/3 innings. Grayson Moore earns the win as he and Nick Maldonado each strike out two batters to total 10 for Vandy's pitching staff.
"I can't even describe the adrenaline rush that first inning. I'll probably never get that again," Thompson said. "Props to (Vanderbilt). They're a very, very good team, and for me to go out there as my first start, I mean, yeah, it wasn't pretty, but we won. That's all that matters."
"It's just baseball. It's just a game. Going out there and doing what I do and getting a successful outing, it felt really good. But just kind of bundling it all up and taking it out on the hitters instead of letting my emotions show even after a few big hits, kind of keeping my cool and getting back on the mound."
"Giving the ball to a young kid that hasn't started a game, and then starting in the tournament against Florida, we talked about it last night, and before Browny and I could speak to who potentially was going to pitch, he said, I know who you're going to choose, and he circled the name, and it was J.D.," Vanderbilt head coach Jim Corbin said. "...the reason being is because of the heartbeat. You know what you're going to get. You trust the fibers of the kid. He's tough."
The first four batters in Florida's lineup also log multiple hits as the Gators combine for 11 hits, four walks and three homers, but they can't make up for the damage done on the defensive end as they commit three errors.
"I think they scored 10 runs over the first three innings, and we uncharacteristically made three errors today, made some other mistakes that kind of put us in a tough spot early," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.
Florida's shaky defense in the first inning served as an early indicator of the semifinal result. Bradfield Jr. was the first of many Commodores on base, reaching first on a fielding error by shortstop Josh Rivera. Caglianone seemed rattled as he walked Davis Diaz and then launched a throw over Dale Thomas' head in an attempt to get the lead runner out at third, allowing Vandy to score on the wild throw. Noland was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Caglianone worked to get the inning back under control seemed, striking out the next two batters. However, a wild pitch scored another unearned run before RJ Austin ripped a double down the left-field line that fell just shy of going out to bring in two more, 4-0. Florida left fielder Wyatt Langford then took matters into his own hands to end the inning, fielding Vastine's line drive single in shallow left field to gun down Austin at the plate with a perfect throw.
"He just wasn't as collected as he's been in his prior starts where he's had a lot of success," Florida's BT Riopelle said about Caglianone's start. "But all we can do is just flush it. I know he's a mentally strong kid. He'll do that, and he'll be ready for next weekend."
The Commodores continued their offensive barrage in the second inning with a solo homer by Espinal, his first home run since March 28 and first of the season against an SEC opponent. Diaz recorded another walk before advancing to second on Noland's line drive single to shallow left field, forcing the Gators to take Caglianone off the mound. Maldonado then singled down the right-field line on Nick Ficarrotta's second pitch, scoring Diaz, before the inning ended, 6-0.
The Gators' line up began to show signs of life with one out in the third inning as Cade Kurland sent a deep homer over the right-field fence, plating its first run of the game, 6-1. Langford followed up with a long shot into right center, but it landed in the glove of Bradfield Jr. for the second out of the inning. Now operating as designated hitter, Caglianone singled on a 110mph hot shot through the left side before Bradfield Jr. made a sliding catch in left center to end the inning.
With one out in the bottom of third, Vastine and Espinal logged consecutive singles before Bradfield Jr.'s single through the right side scored Vastine and moved Espinal to third. He then stole second, becoming the first D-I player with 130 stolen bases in a career since Coastal Carolina's Scott Woodward from 2008-11 with 158. The Commodores continued the hit parade, stringing together a sac fly, two singles and a double to bring in three more runs before the Gators shut down the rally, 10-1.
The Gators continued to chip away with the long ball in the fourth inning as Luke Heyman homered down the left-field line to tack on another run, 10-2.
Florida used the fifth frame to close the gap, starting with a two-run homer off the bat of Langford. With Kurland on base, Langford launched an absolute rocket over the fence in left-center field at 117mph. The 409-shot marked his third home run in five games against Vanderbilt this season. Rivera then followed suit with a deep shot into the same vicinity, hitting the middle of the fence for a stand-up double. Riopelle brought him home with a single to right center before Moore took over on the mound to get the final out of the fifth, 10-5.
Vandy managed to add another run in the bottom of the sixth with two outs as the runners hustled around the bases on Espinal's high fly ball in shallow right field that popped out of Tyler Shelnuts' glove before Florida made another pitching change to end the inning, 11-5.
Three straight singles in the top of the seventh loaded the bases for Riopelle who logged an RBI groundout to third, 11-6.
The Gators were unable to put any more runs across the plate, solidifying the 11-6 decision to send the Commodores to the title game.
HOW IT HAPPENED
B1 | A fielding error and walk put two Commodores on base early. Schreck reached on a fielder's choice as Caglianone overthrew third, allowing Bradfield Jr. to score. Noland was hit by a pitch to load the bases before a wild pitch scored another run. Austin smashed a two-RBI double down the left-field line to cap the four-run first frame. Florida 0, Vanderbilt 4
B2 | Espinal led off the inning with a solo shot over the right-field fence. Diaz walked and Schreck singled to left field before Maldonado sent an RBI single into right field. Florida 0, Vanderbilt 6
T3 | Kurland plates the Gators first run of the game with a solo homer of the right-field fence. Florida 1, Vanderbilt 6
B3 | Vastine, Espinal and Bradfield Jr. hit consecutive singles and Bradfield Jr. logged an RBI. Diaz's RBI sac fly, Schreck's RBI single, Noland's base hit, and Maldonado's two-RBI double combine for another four-run frame. Florida 1, Vanderbilt 10
T4 | Heyman smashed a solo home run down the left-field line. Florida 2, Vanderbilt 10
T5 | Kurland singled to center field before Langford launched a homer to left center. Rivera then doubled to left center, just barely missing a leisurely lap around the bases, but was hit in by Riopelle's single to right center. Florida 5, Vanderbilt 10
B6 | Maldonado walked before Polk reached first on a fielder's choice to the pitcher and Austin was hit by a pitch. Espinal's high pop fly to right field popped out of Shelnuts' glove, allowing one more Commodore run. Florida 5, Vanderbilt 11
T7 | Langford, Caglianone and Rivera each singled to load the bases before Riopelle's RBI ground out tacked on another run for the Gators. Florida 6, Vanderbilt 11
Vanderbilt (40-18) will move on to its xx SEC Tournament Championship game, facing 10-seed Texas A&M (36-24). First pitch is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday in a contest that will be televised on ESPN2.
The top-seeded Gators (44-14), while eliminated from the SEC Tournament, will await word on when and where they'll play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.