The LSU offense arrived in loud fashion for game two.
Hit-after-hit, it seemed like the third inning would last an eternity for right-hander Brandon Sproat. The Pace, Florida native is in the midst of an up and down season and Saturday night was a huge setback for him.
No. 21 LSU cruised through the Gators pitching staff to an 11-4 win in Florida Ballpark. The win sets up a crucial rubber match Sunday afternoon.
Sproat’s rough start leaves Florida searching for answers in the rotation. They already have issues with the Sunday spot, and now Sproat’s inconsistency could lead to another spot coming up for grabs.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan needs to figure out a quick solution to the issues because things will not get easier. Florida still has the bulk of their SEC schedule ahead of them and will need to have at least two pitching spots locked down to be competitive in the conference.
“It is a bit frustrating,” O’Sullivan said. “We gotta find other guys we can win with besides Hunter [Barco].”
The Tigers pounced on Sproat early as the sophomore struggled to command the first. He walked shortstop Cade Doughty to start the game, then let up a missile to LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan that went deep into Dizney Grove in right-center.
The shot from Morgan clocked-in at 102 mph off the bat and traveled 410 feet, giving LSU a 2-0 lead right out of the gates and plenty of momentum. The Tiger dugout erupted and they kept the high-energy to start the game.
Sproat settled down nicely the next inning, retiring the Tigers in order.
It would not last.
Sproat began the next inning by walking Doughty again, then gave up a laser double to Morgan. Center fielder Dylan Crews brought Doughty in with a sac-fly, then UF junior Kendrick Calilao mishandled an easy out at first base and allowed another run to score.
The error by Calilao ended a 77-game streak without an error by the first baseman.
After another rope of a single, O’Sullivan pulled Sproat for southpaw Timmy Manning.
The substitution was null.
Manning allowed a three-run home run on his second delivery of the game to designated hitter Bradyen Jobert to make it 7-0 Tigers. The damage continued as Gavin Dugas was right behind him with a blast of his own and just like that, it was 8-0.
O’Sullivan said he thought if Florida kept the game close early the offense would find their way back into it, but going down that big early makes things really difficult.
“The game got away from us early,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s disappointing to say the least.”
LSU would add another in the fifth to open up its biggest lead of the game at 9-0.
Things settled down for a while until the Gators made some noise of their own in the sixth.
It started with a freshman Deric Fabian home run to right field that got Florida on the board. After that, sophomore Colby Halter singled and fellow sophomore Sterlin Thompson unloaded on a pitch to right field to make it 9-3. The blast cleared the berm in right field and brought some life back into Florida Ballpark.
After junior BT Riopelle singled and advanced on a wild pitch, Calilao doubled to left-center to bring the deficit down to five.
However, Florida could not capitalize on the momentum it built in the sixth as they went quietly before the seventh inning stretch, failing to claw back in the scorecard.
Until the sixth frame, LSU starting pitcher Ma’Khail Hilliard was fantastic on the hill, allowing just one hit and two base runners in five innings of work while striking out seven. The Tigers were in desperate need of a big-time pitching performance Saturday and Hilliard delivered.
His final line of 5.2 IP/5 H/4 R/0 BB/7 K was pretty rough for somebody that pitched as well as he did.
The game went quiet again until the final inning, when LSU added seven more just to really stick it to the Gators and the Gainesville crowd.
“There’s not much to say about this game,” Riopelle said. “The score speaks for itself.”
It is a quick turnaround for both teams as Sunday’s first pitch is set for noon. Ryan Slater will start for the Gators, while the Tigers have yet to announce their starter.
“It’s over and done with now,” Riopelle said. “We know what we’re capable of and we’re excited to do it tomorrow.”
Contact Ethan Budowsky at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ethanbudowsky.