It would not be hyperbolic to say that game two against the ‘Dawgs was the biggest game of the season for Florida.
Now, with the series on the line, Florida needed something to right the ship and prevent any possible spiraling.
The No. 14 Gators (18-9, 3-5) received a quality outing from sophomore pitcher Brandon Sproat, but the offense went silent against the No. 23 Bulldogs (21-6, 5-3), losing 6-1.
The decision to bring Sproat back to the mound in the Classic City might have raised eyebrows before the game. In his last appearance, a Saturday blowout at the hands of LSU, Sproat allowed five earned runs, six hits and two walks in just 2.1 innings of work. Entering the game as the starter, he was pulled for sophomore Timmy Manning before finishing a third of the game.
Tonight, with Florida’s season potentially in the balance, Sproat delivered the goods. By the end of the third inning, Sproat had already recorded six strikeouts, allowing just four hits and zero walks.
The lone scare Sproat encountered came in the second, when back-to-back singles put runners on the corners with two outs. Georgia senior Cory Acton appeared to deliver an RBI single through the infield, but the ball rebounded off the second-base umpire, thus calling the play dead and returning the runner to third base.
Bulldogs head coach Scott Stricklin firmly disagreed with this course of action, and his explosive discussion with the home-plate umpire was enough to warrant an ejection. Nevertheless, Sproat escaped and kept the score at 0-0.
Sproat’s dominance was crucial for the Gators, as the team was struggling to muster anything on offense.
Through four innings, Florida had registered just two hits: a double from sophomore Sterlin Thompson in the first and a single from junior BT Riopelle in the fourth. Neither advanced past second base.
In the fifth, the Gators finally had their first real sign of life, as sophomores Josh Rivera and Mac Guscette delivered back-to-back singles to put two runners on base for the first time all night. Still, just as quickly as the offense got started, it came crashing back down. A flyout from sophomore Colby Halter and a junior Jud Fabian strikeout closed the side.
Just like that, Florida was back to square one.
After a quick one-two-three inning from Sproat, the Gators were right back at it. Georgia ace pitcher Jonathan Cannon opened the top of the sixth by hitting Thompson and walking sophomore Wyatt Langford.
An infield single from Riopelle juiced the bases. Junior Kendrick Calilao was up to the plate for possibly the biggest spot of Florida’s season.
Calilao sent a ground ball to third, where Bulldogs third baseman Josh McAllister threw Thompson out at home.
Next was freshman Deric Fabian, who went down on a fly ball caught in foul territory.
Finally, Rivera blooped a low-hanging fly ball into shallow left field that was caught to end the inning.
After loading the bases with zero outs, the Gators left the frame with zero runs to show for it.
Georgia finally made them pay for it.
Sproat hit the first pitcher of the sixth and allowed a single to the next, putting the Pace, Florida, native in a jam early. A fielders’ choice that forced the runner at second out placed runners on the corners for the ‘Dawgs.
The first drop of blood fell when graduate student Chaney Rogers pulled off a bunt, bringing home the first Georgia run of the night in a squeeze at home. Sophomore Parks Harber was next, and he doubled to bring home two more runners.
Six innings were finished, and the Gators trailed by three. Sproat was also now north of the century mark in pitches.
A single from Guscette, followed by a four-pitch walk for Halter, once again piqued the interest of Gator fans. Jud grounded out, but even that advanced both runners into scoring position.
Thompson was up to bat with one out, standing at the plate as the tying run. In one swing of the bat, the inning was over. Thompson sent a flyout to shallow left, and Guscette was tagged out at home trying to advance.
Florida’s offensive woes continued.
Freshman Philip Abner took over for Sproat in the seventh, ending the starters’ night after six. The Charlotte, North Carolina, product delivered three-straight outs, earning a K while he was at it.
By the top of the eighth, the Gators were down to their final six outs. Leadoff batter Langford did his best to jolt the bats to life, delivering a solo homer to deep left-center, his tenth jack of the year brought Florida to within two.
That would be all, though. Riopelle, Calilao and Rivera all went down. Three outs left.
Freshman Nick Ficarrotta took over for Abner in the eighth, a move that failed to pay off. Georgia would effectively ice the game in the frame, scoring four runs to push the score to 6-1.
In the top of the ninth, the Gators would quietly go down as the Bulldogs side rushed the field in raucous celebration. Florida had dropped the series, the second time that’s happened in the past eight bouts with the ‘Dawgs.
Now, all that the visiting Gators can hope for is to avoid an embarrassing sweep.
That’s what they’ll seek to accomplish Saturday afternoon in game three against Georgia. First pitch is slated for 2 p.m., and will stream on SEC Network+.
Contact Carson Cashion at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.