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Vanderbilt in Unfamiliar Territory
The Gators seized command with Preston Tucker's three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning and then survived a frightening wind and rain storm, an overnight delay and three more innings Tuesday to clip Vandy 3-1 in a second-round game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The loss drops the Commodores (53-11) into an elimination game against North Carolina (51-15) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Vanderbilt churned past the Tar Heels 7-3 in the CWS opener.
For three innings Monday, Florida pitcher Karsten Whitson and Commodores' standout Grayson Garvin dominated the game. Garvin didn't allow a hit in the first three frames and retired Bryson Smith to begin the fourth.
Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana broke Garvin's rhythm with a one-out walk and Mike Zunino joined him on base when he squibbed a ball to the right side that Garvin fielded but couldn't get to first baseman Aaron Westlake cleanly for an infield hit and error that put runners on second and third.
Garvin fell behind Tucker 2-and-1 and left a slider in Tucker's wheelhouse that he cranked out of the ballpark to deep right-center field.
"Every count he had on me, he had been throwing me breaking balls," Tucker said. "So I was obviously looking for a fastball, but breaking ball I wasn't going to be surprised at all. He had thrown everything in the zone, but he left that one up a bit."
Added Garvin, who lost for only the second time all season (13-2), "It was actually a slider that I hung. … He should've hit that where he hit it."
That swing was enough to propel the Gators (52-17) to their fourth win in five games against Vandy (53-11) this season because Whitson and reliever Steven Rodriguez's combined on a masterful performance as the Commodores scratched out only four hits, none after the fifth inning.
Rodriguez took over with two outs in the Vanderbilt fifth after Connor Harrell's one-out single, Tony Kemp walked with two outs and Anthony Gomez chased home a run with a soft liner into left field.
With the tying runs on base, Rodriguez struck out Commodores' slugger Aaron Westlake, who had already fanned twice vs. Whitson, to put out the fire.
The rest of the way – with a 14-hour weather delay in the middle – Rodriguez was untouchable. He mowed down 12 of 13 batters in the final four frames and finished with a career-best seven strikeouts.
Following Gomez's base hit in the fifth, Vandy's only base runner was Harrell in the seventh when he walked with one out.
"He was working the outer third of the plate, utilizing his cutter and slider, just keeping us off balance," Westlake said.
Both teams, as well as a stadium full of fans, got thrown off-balance by Mother Nature in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With nasty storm clouds roiling above, Rodriguez got the first out of Vandy's at-bat and was working to Mike Yastrzemski when tornado sirens suddenly sounded.
For some reason, play continued with Yastrzemski flying out to left.
With fans in the stands scurrying for cover, the umpires finally sent the players hustling off the field after Rodriguez threw a ball to Jason Esposito.
Moments later an ominous cloud hovered over the stadium and winds clocked in the 70-75 mph range scattered debris around the field and stands. Rain began falling soon after that and fans were sent into the stairwells and concourses for safety.
The game was originally scheduled to re-start at 10:45 p.m., but that was scrubbed and the teams were sent home and came back for a 10:06 a.m. start on Tuesday.
And when play resumed, Vandy found no better luck with the Gators' pitching. Besides the inning when the Commodores scored, they never got more than one runner on base.
"I think losses are frustrating, period," Vandy coach Tim Corbin said.
"(Tuesday) was a little bit frustrating just because we couldn't get off our swings. We couldn't get successive runners on base and we couldn't utilize any type of skill game on offense against them."
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