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Friday, May 24, 2024

Gators blow lead in ninth inning, suffer sweep to Vols

Florida entered the ninth with a three-run lead

<p>Florida&#x27;s Kendrick Calilao stands in the batter&#x27;s box against Jacksonville on March 14. The Gators fell to the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers 6-4 Sunday afternoon</p>

Florida's Kendrick Calilao stands in the batter's box against Jacksonville on March 14. The Gators fell to the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers 6-4 Sunday afternoon

The Florida Gators are a team that needs a break.

On Friday night against the Tennessee Volunteers, a seven-run second inning doomed the hosting Gators.

On Saturday, sophomore starting pitcher Brandon Sproat delivered a quality outing, but the offense was unable to generate a single run.

Sunday’s game, the team’s last chance at avoiding the first sweep at home since 2013 against Florida Gulf Coast, looked promising. After taking a first-inning lead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s team maintained that lead for almost the entire game.

Almost, but not the whole.

Leading by three in the bottom of the ninth, Florida (23-17, 6-12) still managed to blow the game, losing to the No. 1 Volunteers (37-3, 17-1) 6-4 in the 11th inning.

Entering Sunday’s matinee, the Gators had earned just five hits and two runs through the first two games of the weekend series. 

Florida’s offense got started early this time around, beginning with a one-out walk from junior center fielder Jud Fabian. Sophomore right fielder Sterlin Thompson singled, and a double-steal put both runners into scoring position.

Sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford earned a base-loading walk, bringing junior catcher BT Riopelle to the plate. He also advanced to first after four balls, bringing Fabian home from third base and putting Florida up 1-0.

The second scoring play of the frame came when junior first baseman Kendrick Calilao sent a sacrifice flyout to deep center, prompting Thompson to tag-up and slide home. 

After the first inning, Florida led 2-0, matching its combined run total from the first two games of the series.

The first signs of life for the Vols came in the third. A walk, followed by a hit-by-pitch, put two runners on base with two outs. Tennessee second baseman Jorel Ortega arrived at the plate with the tying run at first, but Neely caught him swinging for the freshman’s sixth strikeout through the first three innings.

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Neely would continue to cruise, working through seven innings while allowing just one hit, one earned run and two walks.

Freshman Jac Caglianone, making his first career start, made the most of the occasion. 

On the first pitch of his second at-bat of the day, Caglianone sent a rocket all the way to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, a solo home run that pushed the score to 3-0.

Two innings later, Rivera found himself on third base with one out after a Volunteer error turned a single into a triple, Caglianone, once again, announced his presence in the lineup with an RBI sacrifice flyout that sent Rivera home. 

Entering the final three innings, the Gators led 4-0.

The Vols bats finally found a crack in the steel wall of Neely, striking a triple in the seventh from junior center fielder Drew Gilbert. He got home via an RBI groundout from senior third baseman Trey Lipscomb, but Neely stopped the bleeding at one. 

His eighth strikeout of the day closed the inning and set a new career high in K’s for the Seville, Florida, native.

Neely would end his day to the tune of roars from the crowd, a standing ovation for a stellar day of work. 

Taking over for him was redshirt freshman Blake Purnell, who finished off the eighth with three quick outs.

His work in the ninth to close the game was tougher. Sophomore second baseman Jorel Ortega led off the inning for the Vols, and got the orange-and-white section lively with a solo missile to bring UT within two. 

With the No. 1 team in the land clawing back, Purnell delivered two strikeouts before a single put the tying run at the plate.

That run was graduate first baseman Luc Lipcius, who entered the game second on his team in home runs with 11.

Purnell walked Lipcius, placing two runners on base. A follow-up single to senior catcher Evan Russell loaded the bases.

Freshman designated hitter Christian Moore, on the first pitch of the at-bat, lasered a single into left field. Two runners scored, and the game was freshly tied with the soundtrack of ecstatic UT fans echoing through the park.

Purnell was able to escape the inning with a flyout, giving Florida’s offense a chance to walk off the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Caglianone led the inning off, advancing to first on a hit-by-pitch. Freshman speedster Corey Robinson pinch ran for him, and he proved why immediately; Robinson stole second to put a runner in scoring position with no outs. 

Freshman Deric Fabian was up next, who laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Robinson to third. 

Sophomore second baseman Colby Halter arrived at the plate with the walkoff run 90 feet away.

Halter struck out, giving the RBI opportunity to Jud. He wouldn’t get the chance after walking to first, passing the job to Thompson.

On the fourth swing of the at-bat, Thompson sent a flyout to deep left, ending the inning and sending the game to extras.

After allowing a leadoff walk, Purnell was replaced with redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt. Trying to survive the inning, Nesbitt worked a ground ball to earn one out, and a lineout to force a double play. 

Like he has multiple times this season, Nesbitt rose to the occasion. It was all up to the bats.

Langford led off the bottom of the tenth, flying out to right field. Calilao lined out to left, bringing Riopelle to the plate.

The catcher walked, stole second and watched Rivera advance to first on an intentional walk.

Sophomore pinch hitter Mac Guscette was called upon, but was unable to deliver the winning run. His infield groundout closed the tenth inning, and brought Nesbitt back to the bump.

Nesbitt opened the 11th with a flyout, followed by a walk. The walk brought Moore back to the plate, and he did his best to earn the title of “Gator killer” with a two-run homer to deep left. 

Entering the bottom of the eleventh, Florida had three outs to generate two runs.

Deric opened the inning, flying out to center. Halter was next, promptly going down looking. 

The Gators last hope was Jud, who nearly had a double but a leaping grab from Vols left fielder Christian Scott ended the game, locking in the sweep.

Florida will have the full week off for finals before returning next weekend to Condron Ballpark for a series against the Kentucky Wildcats. As the season continues to freefall, the team will be fighting for its postseason life every single night.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion

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Carson Cashion

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.

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