Hoover, Ala. - Vanderbilt rallied in the ninth inning to stun No. 2 Florida 8-6 on Saturday afternoon at Regions Park and advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship Game.
The Commodores (33-25) entered the ninth inning trailing the Gators (42-18) 4-3 after the teams traded runs early in the game. Freshman Connor Castellano led off the inning with a double into the right field corner and moved to third base on Andrew Harris’ sacrifice bunt. Florida closer Austin Maddox then hit Tony Kemp to put runners on the corners with one out for Mike Yastrzemski. The junior dropped down his second squeeze bunt of the tournament to score Castellano and tie the game. The Commodores, however, were not finished. Gators’ catcher Mike Zunino nabbed Yastrzemski on the back end of a double steal for the second out of the inning. Anthony Gomez produced a clutch single through the left side to score Kemp and put Vandy back in front for the first time since the third inning.
Vanderbilt then cranked up the running game against Maddox with Gomez stealing second. An intentional walk to Conrad Gregor put two runners on for Spencer Navin. Gomez and Gregor stole second base and third base with the Gators countering with another intentional walk, this one to Navin to load the bases. The Dores then pulled off one of the greatest plays in school history with a triple steal, with Gomez stealing home before the pitch reached Zunino. Gomez’s run put Vandy up by two runs and the triple steal tied a SEC Tournament record for steals in one inning with six. Will Cooper lined a single into right field to cap the rally at five runs and give the freshman his first two career RBI.
The Gators battled back in the ninth, scoring two runs and putting the winning run on base before Drew VerHagen entered and picked up a one-pitch save, getting Justin Shafer to fly out to right field. The win sends Vanderbilt to the title game for the sixth time in nine trips under Head Coach Tim Corbin and marks the second straight year the Dores will play for the title.
VU scored twice in the first inning to claim an early lead. Kemp led off the game with a double and came around to score on a wild sacrifice bunt with two errors by the Florida defense. Gomez then knocked in Yastrzemski from third on a groundout to shortstop. A RBI-double from Connor Harrell in the second made it 3-1 before Florida scored two in the third to tie it. Nolan Fontana gave the Gators the lead in the fourth with a RBI-single
Nine different Commodores had at least one hit in the win with Yastrzemski, Gomez and Harrell all picking up two hits. Brian Johnson led Florida with two hits and two RBI. Will Clinard (7-2) earned the win despite a shaky ninth with Maddox (3-3) taking the loss.
Vanderbilt has now won a season-best nine games, including eight games against ranked opponents.
The Commodores will meet Mississippi State in the championship game tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.