April 21, 2012
GAINESVILLE, FLA.-----A four hour and 56-minute contest that featured an array of dazzling defensive gems, ended on an errant throw after a strikeout, allowing top-ranked Florida to edge Georgia 3-2 in 16 innings Friday.
A McKethan stadium crowd of 4,840 watched the Gators (30-8, 10-6 SEC) celebrate a victory when for a moment it looked like the game was heading to the 17th inning. With two outs and a runner at third, junior left-hander Blake Dieterich got Nolan Fontana (they were prep teammates at West Orange High in Winter Garden, Fla.) swinging on a pitch that bounced in the dirt. Catcher Brandon Stephens attempted to tag Fontana but missed and was forced to throw down to first. The ball sailed high and off the glove off Jonathan Hester, allowing first baseman Vickash Ramjit to score the winning run. Stephens fell to the ground and immediately was consoled by Georgia head coach David Perno. The Bulldogs had lost to drop to 23-16, 7-9 in the SEC.
Georgia took a 1-0 lead in the third. With two outs, junior third baseman Curt Powell lined a double to right field off the glove of Ramjit. Then, senior Peter Verdin collected his 17th RBI of the year with a run-scoring single. In the fourth, Florida tied the game when catcher Mike Zunino had a leadoff double and scored on a base hit by designated hitter Brian Johnson. The Gators added another base hit in the inning before sophomore left-hander Alex Wood ended up striking out the side to keep it a 1-1 contest.
Georgia had a scoring chance in the fifth, loading the bases with one out to chase Jonathon Crawford. The Gators turned to ace left-hander Steve Rodriguez. He struck out freshman Nelson Ward on three pitches and then got shortstop Kyle Farmer to hit in to a fielder's choice to get the Gators out of the jam. Then in the bottom of the fifth, Nolan Fontana and Daniel Pigott led off with base hits to bring up Preston Tucker. Wood got him to pop out in foul territory down the first base line, and on the play, Fontana took third. Zunino delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Gators their first lead of the night at 2-1.
In the sixth, Georgia got leadoff singles from Brett DeLoach and Conor Welton. The Bulldogs looked to pinch-hitter Kevin Ruiz to get a bunt down and he missed on his first two chances and struck out on the third offering from the Gator left-hander. Hyams and senior Colby May both popped out as Rodriguez extinguished another Bulldog threat.
With one out in the eighth, DeLoach smacked a triple to left center. It was his third career triple and two have come against the Gators. Welton delivered an RBI-single to tie the contest. At that point, the Gators brought in right-hander Austin Maddox who has an SEC-leading 10 saves. After hitting Ruiz with a pitch, he came back to retire Hyams and May to keep it a tie game.
In the Gator eighth, Daniel Pigott drew a leadoff walk. Wood battled back to strike out Preston Tucker and got Zunino to flyout before a wild pitch moved Pigott in to scoring position. It was just the second wild pitch of the year for Wood. Johnson drew a walk on four pitches to bring up left fielder Justin Shafer. He got him to bounce in to an inning-ending fielder's choice to send it to the ninth 2-all.
Maddox took care of the Bulldogs in the ninth, allowing just a two-out single to Ward. In the Gator ninth, Georgia turned to junior right-hander Bryan Benzor. Wood's final line was eight innings pitched, surrendering just two runs on eight hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. Benzor got the Gators in the ninth to send it to extra innings. It marked the first extra-inning affair of the season for both clubs.
With one out in the 10th, Tucker lined a single up the middle. Zunino smacked one that hit Benzor in the lower leg and bounced towards May at first who stepped on the bag for the second out while Tucker went to second. The Bulldogs opted to intentionally walk Johnston to bring up Shafer. On a 2-2 pitch, Benzor uncorked a wild pitch to get both Gators in to scoring position. Then on the 3-2, he struck out Shafer to send it to the 11th. Georgia got two-out singles from Powell and Verdin and then Maddox came back to get Ward who was called out on strikes. In the 11th, Georgia looked to freshman Pete Nagel as Benzor provided three scoreless innings of relief.
In the 13th, Florida threatened to end it, putting two on with one out. Casey Turgeon lined a single to right and pinch-runner Josh Tobias tried to score from second and Ruiz threw him out at home. Then, Ramjit hit a hard grounder down the third base line that Powell speared and threw him out to push it to the 14th frame.
"We couldn't get a big hit, I thought we pitched very well against this lineup and played some great defense, and it was a tough way to end a great game," said Perno. "We've got to find a way to win. We held them to two runs in 15 innings and then a throw gets away on a strikeout for what should've been the third out and we lost. We got to figure out to score without Hunter (Cole) in the lineup. We chased to many pitches. Saturday's game is at night so that will help us. We're in a tough league and there's not a lot of margin for error. We have a tough time scoring and you have to credit Florida's pitching too."
In the bottom of the 16th, redshirt freshman Jay Swinford retired Casey Turgeon before Ramjit reached on a walk. Georgia brought in Dieterich. Cody Dent put down a sacrifice bunt to move Ramjit to second. Then, Dieterich's first wild pitch of the season got Ramjit to third. Fontana followed and Stephens' miscue put an end to Georgia's longest game in school history. The previous long was 4:47, a 13-11 loss in 14 innings to Western Carolina in 1992. Greg Larson pitched three scoreless innings for the win to move to 5-0 while Swinford dropped to 0-1. Maddox and Larson combined to blank the Bulldogs over the final 8.2 innings. Meanwhile, Benzor, Nagel, Hawkins combined for six scoreless innings.
Georgia freshman starting centerfielder Hunter Cole missed his third straight game this week. The series continues Saturday at 7:05 p.m., and the game will be televised live by CSS.