The fourth-seeded Florida Gators won the 2015 SEC baseball tournament championship 7-3 over the defending national champion Vanderbilt Commodores, emerging from an extensive rain delay to win the program's seventh SEC tourney title.
The Gators took the lead from the get-go when leadoff man Harrison Bader jacked a solo home run on the game's first at-bat, and they didn't look back. Florida jumped on Vanderbilt's pitchers for a 5-2 lead before the extensive rain delay in the third inning, and it showed no signs of slowing down en route to a comprehensive title win.
The Commodore bats that exploded in the previous two games were held in check by the Gators' bullpen, led by Danny Young's retiring of 10 straight batters in the late stretch of the game. Late runs seemed inevitable for Vandy based on the happenings of this weekend in Hoover, Alabama, but Young and Co. made certain that wouldn't happen.
SEC Sports captured the Gators' moment:
It's going to be a long trip back to Gainesville for the Gators, but there won't be any complaints from the newest SEC champions having to wake up early for the selection show, per Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun:
Sunday's final marked the fifth game in five days for the Gators and Commodores, both of whom lost early games in Hoover. Fatigue obviously doesn't settle in for the batters who are used to daily games, but it certainly put Vanderbilt's rotation behind the eight-ball against the Gators' bats.
Head coach Tim Corbin made it clear that Vandy had the talent on the mound, but those few had to deliver, per the Tennessean's Adam Sparks: "We have options, but they have to pitch well. It's the toughest thing about getting through this tournament. If you are going to play five games, you'd better have some arms that can do it."
Simply put, the Commodores didn't have the arms to do it early on.
Florida wasted no time jumping on Vandy starter Ryan Johnson, and that's meant to be taken literally. Bader homered on the first at-bat of the game, immediately jump-starting the Gators offense for two runs in the opening frame.
Not to be outdone on the heels of scoring 28 runs in the last two games, the Commodores got on the board with a run in the first and third innings. But by then, Florida had already racked up five runs off of Johnson and Jordan Sheffield to take a 5-2 lead.
That's when Mother Nature decided to announce her presence with storms that delayed action for well over two hours. It turned what was scheduled to be a Sunday matinee into a late-night affair.
With both teams in contention for a top-eight national seed in the NCAA tournament, the implications past Sunday inevitably had to weigh on the coaching staffs. Sparks of the Tennessean imagined the conversation between the defending national champion's head coach and the selection committee:
But alas, the rain eventually subsided even though it came well after dark, as shown by SEC Network:
A near three-hour delay threatened to quell the Gator bats and give the Commodores the injection of life they needed. It turned out to be the opposite.
Instead of allowing Vanderbilt to get going offensively, Florida's pitching continued to dictate the game. Eric Hanhold and Aaron Rhodes did well to hold the 'Dores to just three runs in the first four innings, but Young's performance on the mound was the proverbial nail in the coffin.
Young came into the game just in time to end a fourth-inning jam, and after a two-run Gator fifth that pushed their lead to 7-3, he wasn't about to give the opponent a sliver of hope. He allowed just two hits over 3.1 dazzling relief innings, demoralizing the Vanderbilt bats that had knocked eight homers in Hoover.
A dominant stretch by Young from the fourth to seventh innings all but closed the door, as told by the team's Twitter:
On the surface, the Commodores' sudden cold streak at the plate doesn't make a lot of sense considering they put up 28 runs in their previous 18 innings. But it wasn't the first time offensive woes came about for Vanderbilt in Hoover—they hit just .185 as a team in their first two tourney games.
When it came down to it, no extensive rain delay or cold streak played much of a part in that. All of the credit should go to Florida's bullpen, which produced nearly seven marvelous innings of work after the Commodores began getting to Hanhold.
Of course, Sunday's game is only the start of a long road ahead for these two teams—at least, they hope so. Top-eight national seeds may be on the way for both of them.
It's a good thing the Commodores have last season's national title run to pull from, because their play in Hoover has been consistently inconsistent. As for the Gators, the sky is the limit if the pitching shows up like it did over the weekend.