Entering Sunday’s matinee date with the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Florida Gators needed something.
After losing the opening two games of the series, blowing leads in both matchups, the Gators would need freshman starting pitcher Brandon Neely to deliver the performance of his young career.
That’s just what he did, but it almost wasn’t enough.
After a stellar outing from Neely and two quality innings from redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt, a two-run homer from Vandy’ in the bottom of the ninth sent the game to extra innings.
It was freshman Deric Fabian who saved the day for No. 23 Florida (22-14, 6-9) in the 10th inning with a solo home walk-off run to seal a 4-3 victory over the Commodores (25-10, 7-8).
Florida opened the first inning with four-straight singles, a sequence that head coach Kevin O’Sullivan will take every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Sophomore Colby Halter, the leadoff batter, was tagged out at second after trying to steal the base, but that would be the end of the Gators' misfortunes in the frame.
Junior Jud Fabian advanced to third on a single from sophomore Sterlin Thompson, but it was fellow sophomore Wyatt Langford who earned the RBI on a single that drove Jud home.
Next up was junior BT Riopelle, who reached first on a fielder's choice that forced Langford out at second. Thompson reached home on the play, though, giving Riopelle an RBI as well.
After just one side, Florida had a 2-0 lead.
Neely, ending the day with 6.1 innings pitched, was clearly feeling it from the jump.
The Seville, Florida, native worked four scoreless innings while piling on a career-high seven strikeouts. The first drop of blood came in the fifth, when junior Parker Noland went yard on Neely, a solo shot to put the Commodores on the board.
Still, after another “Jud Jack” to left center in the third put the Gators up three, a Commodores counter strike pulled them to within just two.
Neely continued to deal through the game, and he needed to; Florida’s offense went mute, mustering just one hit in the middle three innings. Sophomore Josh Rivera singled in the top of the seventh to get the Gators on base, but he was promptly stranded.
Florida’s offense gave Vanderbilt every opportunity to pull off a comeback, but the Gator arms just wouldn’t allow it.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt relieved Neely in the middle of the seventh with a runner on first, and took care of business. One K and one lineout would secure the final two outs of the seventh, sending the ‘Dores to their final six outs.
After yet another quick inning from Florida’s offense, Nesbitt returned to work a one-two-three inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, once again returning after a quick three-up-three-down frame from the Gator bats, Nesbitt seemed ready to nail the game shut.
With two outs, a single put the tying run at the plate. That tying run, sophomore Jack Bulger, rocketed a hanging changeup over the wall in left field, forcing extra innings and silencing the Florida dugout.
That dugout got right back up to its feet in the tenth, as Deric went yard himself. Just moments after allowing the Commodores into the game, the younger Fabian delivered the final blow.
In the bottom of the tenth, Nesbitt returned and once again secured two quick outs. On the potential final throw of the day to first, though, Halter committed an error that put a runner on base for Vandy.
Nesbitt worked through it, delivering a groundout to close the game and secure the win.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Gators can’t be picky with conference wins.
Florida returns to Gainesville Tuesday at 6.pm. to take on Stetson. Its second matchup with the Hatters this season will be streamed on SEC Network+.
Then, the Gators will host a monumental weekend series against the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers.
Contact Carson Cashion at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @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.