Behind a masterful effort by junior Bryan Augenstein (Sebastian, Fla.), sixth-seeded Florida (29-29) ousted seventh-seeded Alabama (31-26) from the 2007 SEC Tournament on Thursday afternoon at Regions Park, 3-2. The Gators survive to meet the loser of tonight’s clash between second-seeded Arkansas (39-18) and third-seeded South Carolina (41-16) tomorrow at 4 p.m., live on Sun Sports.
Augenstein (8-5) captured his fourth-straight decision by hurling a complete game in his postseason debut. He went the distance for the second time this year and became the first Florida pitcher to toss a complete game at the SEC Tourney since Connor Falkenbach blanked Georgia, 7-0, on May 28, 2004. The 6’5” righty yielded eight hits and two runs, with eight strikeouts and zero walks.
With the Tide down its final three outs, sophomore Alex Avila opened the ninth with his team-leading 14th homer to narrow the gap to 3-2. The ball cleared the wall in center over the 405-foot mark. Sophomore Kent Matthes followed with a sharp single up the middle and was sacrificed over by junior Matt Bentley. Augenstein whiffed freshman Del Howell for the second out but uncorked a wild pitch to push Matthes to third. With the tying run 90 feet away, Augenstein made freshman Brandon May his eighth strikeout victim to end the game.
Senior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) poked a two-out single through the left side off junior Will Stroup (3-1) in the bottom of the first to give the Gators a quick lead. Freshman Cole Figueroa (Tallahassee, Fla.) opened with a single and was sacrificed over by sophomore Avery Barnes (High Springs, Fla.). Figueroa collected his fifth theft of the year by taking third and Pride connected on a 3-2 offering for his 41st RBI.
The Crimson Tide answered in the top of the second with a run on two hits off Augenstein. Matthes led off with a double to left field and junior Bentley followed with a single into right field. Howell’s fielder’s choice to Figueroa forced Bentley at second and enabled Matthes to score the tying run.
UF regained the lead on a sacrifice fly by freshman Hampton Tignor (Sarasota, Fla.) in the home part of the frame. Sophomore Cody Neer (Orlando, Fla.) singled into left center with one down and advanced to third on a base-hit by junior Jon Townsend (London, Ky.). Tignor lofted his second sac fly of the year to straightaway center field.
The Gators built a 3-1 advantage in the third on a fielder’s choice by senior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.). Barnes began the stanza with a single into left and senior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) earned a free pass. Pride’s fly ball to right advanced Barnes to third and Leclerc’s grounder was enough to plate Barnes.
Augenstein registered his 100th strikeout of the season with a punchout of Bentley in the fourth. He became the first Gator to reach the century mark in K since Alan Horne totaled 108 in 2005 and just the third since Brad Wilkerson recorded 136 in 1998.
Pride drew a leadoff walk in the sixth and a one-out single by Leclerc ended the afternoon for Stroup, who surrendered six hits and had three K and three walks over 5.1 innings. Neer greeted sophomore reliever Austin Hyatt with a grounder for two Gators in scoring position before the righty had Townsend foul out beyond first base.
May poked a two-out single in the seventh to bring the pro-Alabama crowd to life. However, Augenstein responded with a strikeout of sophomore pinch hitter Ryan Rhoden to preserve the 3-1 lead. Soon after, Figueroa notched his second hit of the contest with one down and stole second to move into scoring position. Following a two-out intentional walk to LaPorta, Hyatt responded by fanning Pride.
Each team totaled eight hits and neither squad committed an error. Figueroa was 2-for-3 with two stolen bases for Florida, while Matthes (3-for-4) and Avila (2-for-4) turned in multiple-hit outings for UA. Hyatt threw 2.2 scoreless innings for ‘Bama, which went two-and-out at the SEC Tourney for the first time since 1994.