Nashville, Tenn, -
Mike Zunino's three-run home run to right field with one out in the top of the 12th inning on Sunday afternoon lifted No. 8 Florida to a dramatic 6-3 victory over No. 3 Vanderbilt and capped off a back-and-forth weekend series between two of the Southeastern Conference's most complete baseball teams at Hawkins Field.
With the win, the Gators pulled even with the Commodores and the South Carolina Gamecocks, who took two out of three games against Arkansas this weekend, in the race for the conference's best record. Vanderbilt dropped to 20-7 in SEC play and 42-8 overall after suffering its first home series loss of the season.
Junior reliever Jack Armstrong was saddled with the loss on Sunday despite not allowing a hit and striking out three Gators in 3.2 innings of relief. In the 12th, Armstrong walked leadoff hitter Nolan Fontana and intentionally walked Preston Tucker two batters later before being pulled for Navery Moore, who gave up the decisive home run to Zunino.
"Navery fell behind a little bit, he wasn't able to get his curveball in for a strike there, so we were trying to challenge (Zunino) with a fastball," said catcher Curt Casali of the late home run. "Unfortunately, it was left a little bit out over the plate too much, and you can't do that to Zunino, who's one of the better players in the league."
Zunino hit two of his team's three home runs on Sunday, adding a solo shot in the seventh off Vanderbilt starter Taylor Hill that cleared the bleachers in left-center field. Florida hit six home runs in all over the weekend and tied Stanford for the most runs scored against the Commodores in a weekend series this season with 13 over three days of baseball.
After Austin Maddox hit his fourth home run of the year in the top of the second inning to put the Gators on the board first, but Vanderbilt responded with three hits in the bottom half, including RBI doubles by Casali and Connor Harrell, to take back the early lead. Casali went 3-for-5 with two RBI and a towering leadoff home run in the fourth inning that cleared the tallest part of the scoreboard in left field and brought the Vanderbilt lead to 3-1.
But Zunino struck in back-to-back innings, hitting his first home run of the day in the seventh and then driving in the tying run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to bring the visitors level.
Armstrong came on in relief of Mark Lamm with the score tied in the eighth and stranded five Florida baserunners over the next four innings, but his teammates could not take advantage despite several late chances of their own.
After Tony Kemp and Anthony Gomez reached base to lead off the 10th, relievers Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox teamed up to retire Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito and Mike Yastrzemski in order. Then in the 11th, the bottom of the Vanderbilt order was not able to push across Casali after he led off the inning with a double to the wall in left-center.
"It hurts to lose to them just because of the position we're in right now, but it's not going to keep us down," Casali said. "We have to look forward to what we have in the future, and that's Georgia. It may take a day, but we'll be alright."
The Commodores hit the road for the final SEC series of the season Thursday at Georgia. Thursday night's game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT. Friday's game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CT and Saturday's at 1 p.m. CT.
Registration is now open for Summer 2011 Baseball Camps. Please click here to sign up or to find out additional information about the camps led by Head Coach Tim Corbin.