The sixth-seeded Florida Gators are moving on to the semifinals of the SEC Championship tournament.
Thursday afternoon began as a defensive cage match between the Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide, but Florida broke out late to secure a 7-2 win and a trip to the next round.
The matchup laid scoreless through five frames until Florida third baseman Nathan Hickey entered the batters’ box and rocketed a fastball back toward center field and beyond the fence for a solo home run.
Two innings later, Florida unleashed a hit-fiesta. Second baseman Cory Acton doubled down the left field line and catcher Mac Guscette laid down a ground ball, enough for both players to add their first RBIs of the night and push the lead to 3-0.
Sophomore left fielder Jacob Young stepped to the plate immediately after Guscette and shoved some salt into the Tide’s wounds with a solo shot of his own to left field. Young struck out in his first stance, but he shook it off to finish the day with three successful at-bats.
Freshman Sterlin Thompson built off a big game Wednesday against Mississippi State and added three hits of his own. The right fielder added some insurance to the Gators lead in the eighth frame with an RBI single to left field to score base runner Jud Fabian.
Right-handed pitcher Franco Aleman started on the mound and held the Crimson Tide scoreless through seven innings. After a leadoff single to Alabama second baseman Peyton Wilson, the transfer yielded just one more base hit until the fifth inning. He never allowed multiple hits in any frame and struck out his final batter.
The junior tossed five strikeouts and surrendered five hits in seven innings, his longest outing of the year. He previously hadn’t held a team scoreless for more than five innings..
Reliever Trey Van Der Weide cleared out the eighth inning for Aleman with a strikeout and closer Jack Leftwich stepped on the hill for the final three outs to secure his sixth save of the season.
The Florida infield played lights out in the shutout victory. It successfully turned two doubles plays, including on the second batter of the game, and picked off three of Alabama baserunners, The Gators’ defensive effort has yet to fall behind on the scoreboard so far in the tournament.
Alabama went down swinging and scored two runs in the ninth in a final gasp at a comeback. Young tried to reel in a routine line drive from Crimson Tide third baseman Zane Denton but fumbled the ball when it smacked his webbing. Denton made his way to second base while baserunner Sam Praytor crossed home. The rally ended soon after, however, and Florida left with a five-run triumph.
The Gators now receive a day off and exit the double-elimination portion of the bracket to move on to the fourth round after the win. Florida’s next matchup comes in the SEC semifinals Saturday afternoon against either Tennessee or Alabama.
Contact Jesse Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352