The first-ever series at Florida Ballpark was spoiled by the Miami Hurricanes in the spring of 2021. After a Friday night victory for the Gators, the team fell on Saturday and Sunday to drop that series to the in-state rival.
Only the team knows how much that was used as motivation this weekend in Coral Gables, Florida, but it surely kept Florida’s attention.
After a game-one loss Friday night, the Gators had a chance to flip the script from last year and give the ‘Canes a taste of their own medicine. They did just that, winning Saturday and Sunday with the help of sophomores Brandon Sproat and Timmy Manning throwing their best games of the young season.
The series victory is Florida’s first against a top-25 opponent. After blowing the brakes off of the likes of Georgia State, North Florida and Florida A&M, the Gators secured their biggest and strongest wins to date.
With a loaded conference schedule coming in the next few weeks, reps against nationally ranked talent are invaluable for the young squad.
“We played a really good Miami team,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Faced two really good starters, then faced a really good closer, and we showed some resiliency. We lost the first game, came back and won the next two.”
Through the first couple weeks of the season, questions surrounded the depth of Florida’s pitching staff. Sophomore ace and former SEC Pitcher of the Week Hunter Barco was a proven commodity. After him, though, question marks cluttered the other names including Sproat and Manning.
On Friday night in Miami, Barco put forth his worst performance of the season, allowing four earned runs on seven hits. The Gator bats couldn’t solve the enigma of Hurricanes starting pitcher Carson Palmquist, resulting in a 5-2 defeat to open the series. If Florida wanted to work its way back into the series, the team would need Sproat and Manning to rise to the occasion.
First up was Sproat Saturday night. The Pace, Florida, native delivered when it mattered, throwing six full innings and recording four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts for a scoreless outing. His eight K’s tied a career high. Freshman Nick Ficarrotta came in for relief, closing out a dominant 8-1 victory for Florida with five strikeouts through two innings and some change.
Manning was up next for the Sunday rubber match, and the depth of Florida’s pitching continued to shine. Despite not earning a win due to being pulled midway through the fifth inning, Manning brought his best stuff of the year Sunday afternoon. Five strikeouts and just three hits through five innings highlighted his day before freshmen Blake Purnell, Philip Abner and Ryan Slater closed the 11-3 game out.
In a hostile environment at Mark Light Field, the Gators won two pitching battles out of three. Neither of the victories was with their ace, a promising sign for Florida’s future as SEC play draws closer.
Similarly to last weekend against Georgia State, Florida’s offense woke up as the series progressed. Much of the dormancy of the Friday night affair could be attributed to Hurricanes ace Palmquist. One of the nation’s premier southpaws, Palmquist is one of the best arms the Gators will face all year.
After the ace, though, it was bombs away for the Gator bats.
The top of the lineup carried Florida early in both victories, first in the top of the first Saturday. Halter turned a single into a run by stealing second, advancing to third on a wild pitch and arriving home on a throwing error. Halter rounded the bases again in the third, this time thanks to a two-run shot by junior Jud Fabian.
In the top of the ninth, holding on to a 5-1 lead, Florida put the game on ice with a three-run moonshot from junior Kendrick Calilao. The Kissimmee, Florida, native went yard again Sunday, a solo shot that time.
The floodgates continued to open Sunday in South Florida as the Gators piled on eleven runs.
The team went north of 10 runs for the fifth time this season, and the first time since the 17-0 wallopping of the Florida A&M Rattlers. Six different batters recorded a hit, as sophomore Wyatt Langford led the way with three hits and two RBIs.
The back half of Florida’s lineup still has some progress to make, but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan can sleep comfortably with a top-four of Halter, Fabian, sophomore Sterlin Thompson and Langford that can hang with just about anyone.
Doubts were cast over the young Florida squad after an opening weekend loss to the Liberty Flames. The dominance shown in the latter two games of this weekend won’t erase those doubts altogether, but it surely helps ease the concerns.
Contact Carson Cashion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @CarsonCashion
Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.