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Squeezing, Stealing and Winning, Dores Earn Spot in SEC Championship with Wild Ninth

The Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team is headed to the SEC Championship Game after their ninth straight win, beating Florida 8-6 with a 5-run, 6-SB ninth inning.

In an inning that featured a game-tying squeeze play and stealing home as part of a triple steal, the Dores rallied from down 4-3, to take a 4-run lead, earning a spot in tomorrow afternoon's SEC Championship game against Mississippi State (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2).

(See the triple steal here, and someone feel free to embed the video later.)

The Dores took an early lead, scoring two runs by the time the first out was recorded. Tony Kemp hit a leadoff double. Kemp then scored on a Mike Yastrzemski sac bunt thanks to two throwing errors by the Gators. Yastrzemski reached second on the errors, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on an Anthony Gomez grounder to short.

Florida got a run back in the bottom of the 1st on an RBI double by DH Brian Johnson, but Vandy stretched the lead back to two in the second as Riley Reynolds scored on a double by Connor Harrell.

The Dores chased Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson in the third, loading the bases with 1 out, but failed to capitalize. Another double by the Gators' Johnson knocked in two runs to tie the game in the 3rd. Brian Miller replaced Dores starter Kevin Ziomek stranding Johnson to keep the game tied 3-3 after 3.

Florida took the lead in the fourth, and held it thanks to 4 1-hit innings from Greg Larson and 1 2/3 innings from frequent Vandy nemesis Steven Rodriguez.

But the Dores bullpen kept the Florida lead at just one all the way to the 9th, thank in large part to a terrific double play turned by Kemp to end the eighth inning and keep a run from scoring, tagging the runner and completing the double play at first.

Freshman PH Connor Castellano led off the 9th with a big double down the RF line, and a Vanderbunt advanced him to 3rd with one out. Kemp was hit by pitch, putting runners at 1st and 3rd Mike Yastrzemski.

For the 2nd time of the tournament, Yastrzemski laid down a perfect squeeze bunt, plating Castellano and reaching 1st himself. Yastrzemski was (wrongly) called out at 2nd on a double steal. Leaving Kemp at 3rd as the possible winning run with 2 outs and Anthony Gomez at the plate.

Gomez gave the Dores the 1-run lead with a liner through the left side of the Gator infield to bring in Kemp.

The Dores then poured it on, thanks in large part to 6 steals, including 3 by Gomez as part of a steal, a double steal, and the rare triple steal. Gomez stole second leading to an intentional walk of Conrad Gregor. Gomez and Gregor then pulled a double steal, leading to an intentional walk of Spencer Navin.

With DH Will Cooper at the plate, all three Vandy runners went, with Gomez getting such a break that he stole home leaving the catcher no chance to even attempt to tag him out, giving Vanderbilt a 6-4 lead. Cooper followed with a single knocking in Gregor and Navin, giving Vandy the 8-4 lead.

Florida scored 2 more in the bottom of the 9th, after a runner was called safe at first on what appeared to be a game ending double play. Drew VerHagen came in to record the last out and the save, sending the Dores (33-25) into the Championship Game matchup with Mississippi St. (38-22) who defeated Kentucky 2-1 in the earlier semifinal.