May 28, 2011 10:44:00 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Nolan Fontana drove in the go-ahead run on a groundout in the top of the ninth inning to lift the University of Florida baseball team into the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game with a 3-2 win against the University of Georgia on Saturday.
Fontana also hit a game-tying two-run homer in the third inning for Florida (44-16), which will face Vanderbilt in seeking its first SEC tournament title since 1991.
It took 18 innings and a pair of one-run games Saturday to make it.
"It was a long, hot day," Florida coach Kevin O''Sullivan said. "It was a frustrating day. It was an emotional day."
It began with Florida walking over before the opener to greet injured Georgia outfielder Johnathan Taylor, attending his second game since a neck injury in March.
Two outs in, Florida pitcher Brian Johnson took a thrown ball to the back of his head, leaving him lying on his back for several minutes with what a Florida spokesman later said was a mild concussion, according to a Florida spokesman.
By winning the first game 4-3, Georgia (31-30) became eligible for an NCAA regional berth, which coach David Perno called "really special for our program."
"I think we''re in" a regional, Perno said. "It''s just a matter of where."
In the decisive game, Florida opened the top of the ninth with a double by designated hitter Vickash Ramjit, who took third base on a sacrifice bunt by Daniel Pigott. He was the first runner to get that far for either team since the third inning.
Fontana then grounded to second base against reliever Craig Gullickson, but just beat the throw to avoid an inning ending double play.
"Right when I hit it, all I thought was, ''Get there. Get there before the ball,'' " Fontana said.
Perno trotted over to argue the call with umpire Tony Maners but said it was a reluctant protest.
"He did get it right," Perno said. "There was close plays all day. I didn''t want to go out there in the second game. I was exhausted, but I''ve got to back up my guys."
Austin Maddox would move to the mound from first base in the bottom half. He ended the game by striking out Colby May with Georgia''s Kevin Ruiz on third after hitting a one-out double and moving up on Joey Delmonico''s sacrifice fly.
"I kind of talked (O''Sullivan) into it," Maddox said. "I love being out there in those situations."
The Bulldogs committed four errors in the game, one of them leading to an unearned run in the third. The teams combined to use 10 pitchers in the finale.
In the first game, Zach Cone had an RBI triple in the first inning and singled home a run in the third. Michael Palazzone (10-4), who started and threw 98 pitches against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, allowed three hits and an unearned run in four innings.
Tyler Maloof polished off a scoreless ninth with a double play grounder for his second straight save.
The game got off to a scary start.
Johnson was struck in the back of the head while crouching on the mound by a low throw to second by catcher Mike Zunino and was released after undergoing tests at an area hospital. Perno was among those comforting Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year.
"He was visibly emotional about that," O''Sullivan said. "He felt awful about it. He was the first guy I went to when I got the news from our trainer that (Johnson) was going to be OK."
1. West Point's Edwards, Knight will go to EMCC HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Cold start dooms New Hope girls against Ridgeland HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. MSU women keep climbing higher, higher LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Starkville Academy boys beat St. Joseph in playoff opener HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. NHHS junior high softball program will play first games Thursday HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS