In the bottom of the second inning, the Florida Gators faced their first make-or-break moment of the night.
The bases were juiced, and freshman Deric Fabian was up to bat.
In a similar situation last week, against Georgia, Florida came up empty in a bases-loaded situation in an eventual loss to lose the series to the ‘Dawgs.
This time, Fabian kept his composure, and forced a walk to bring in a run.
That was just one of the moments when Florida flipped the script against the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks. In a night highlighted by a dominant showing from sophomore starting pitcher Brandon Sproat, the Gators (20-11, 4-7) snapped a six-game SEC losing streak, topping the Razorbacks (23-6, 8-3) 7-2.
As fans left Florida Ballpark following Thursday’s deflating 8-1 beatdown, visitors appeared understandably mild. In the early stages of Friday’s affair, it was necessary for the Gators to get the orange-and-blue claden faithful engaged.
A two-run opening frame accomplished that.
Junior center fielder Jud Fabian opened the hitting with a one-out double into shallow center. A combination of the blooper shot and the sunlight kept the Razorback fielders from securing the ball. A wild pitch from starting pitcher Hagen Smith moved Jud 90 feet from the plate.
Sophomore Sterlin Thompson earned his 25th RBI of the season, nearly knocking one out of the park. He instead settled for a flyout to the warning track, but it was still enough to bring Jud home and secure a 1-0 lead.
Next up to the plate was sophomore Wyatt Langford, who blasted a shot into oblivion, also known as center field, to double the score.
“I didn’t think it was gonna get out,” Langford said. “I thought it was gonna hit the fence. I was running full speed and then they said it was gone, which is always nice.”
Smith walked junior Kendrick Calilao to open the second, prompting a mound visit that further electrified the crowd at Florida Ballpark. Sophomores Josh Rivera and Mac Guscette singled, Guscette reaching on a bunt, and that loaded the bases for Deric.
A five-pitch walk sent Deric to first, and Calilao to home plate. Next up was sophomore Colby Halter who also had a grand slam on his mind. Just like Thompson the inning prior, Halter reached the warning track with a shot that came up just shy. It was enough to bring home the runner from third, extending the Gators’ lead to 4-0.
Sproat, for his part, hunkered down on the mound.
The Pace, Florida, native wasn’t perfect; he allowed four combined hits in the second and third innings. Still, Sproat worked his way out of the jams, both times with the help of a double-play ball to end the inning.
The starter ended the game allowing seven hits and two walks, but only one earned run and five strikeouts. That tells the story of the night for Sproat, who did an excellent job of mitigating damage from the Razorback bats.
“[Sproat] was really good,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He needed to be because obviously they’re really good offensively.”
In the bottom of the third, Florida continued its streak of three-straight scoring innings to open the game. The culprit this time was junior BT Riopelle, who snuck a solo shot over the fence in right field to pump the score to 5-0.
Sproat entered the fifth inning having already thrown 73 pitches. His command started to wane, as back-to-back singles to open the inning brought home the first Arkansas run of the night. He would limit the damage to one, though, once again working his way out of a two-runners-on situation.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was resilient, which might have been what Florida needed more.
The Gators responded right back, earning a run of their own in the fifth. Langford and Thompson advanced to second and third, respectively, and Riopelle brought Thompson home on a sacrifice flyout to deep left.
Just for good measure, an RBI double from Calilao sent Langford home, adding a run to Florida’s lead. After five, the home dugout was enjoying a 7-1 lead.
Redshirt freshman Blake Purnell took over for Sproat midway through the sixth inning, but not before the starter delivered two final outs. Sproat finished with 5.2 innings pitched and 109 pitches, a new career high. After two-straight solid outings for the sophomore, Sproat has solidified himself as the clear-cut number-two guy in the pitching staff.
After closing the seventh with a quick flyout, Purnell allowed one run in the top of the eighth. One single turned into a run after an RBI triple from Hogs center fielder Braydon Webb, but he was stranded at third by Purnell.
Just like Sproat before him, the Boynton Beach, Florida, native was keeping Arkansas at bay.
In the top of the ninth, O’Sullivan relied on Purnell to close out the game. He did so with ease, delivering three outs in just five pitches.
In a massive game, Florida rose to the occasion and delivered its best game of SEC baseball this season. Now, all eyes are on a Saturday afternoon rubber-match at 1 p.m. to determine the series winner.
The stakes have not been higher all year.
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.