Redshirt freshman Nick Ficarrotta did not come to the University of Florida for baseball. A student of the game, Ficarrotta simply joined as a walk-on and worked and fought his way into the pitching rotation.
Saturday, in the biggest game of both his career and his team’s season, the Palm Harbor, Florida, native shined.
Ficarrotta entered the game in relief to work a career-high 6.1 innings en route to a shutout performance. As a team, the seven-seeded Gators topped the 11-seeded Crimson Tide in a high-scoring 11-6 game.
The win sent Florida to the tournament semifinal to face the Texas A&M Aggies.
Entering Saturday’s game, Florida hadn’t scored in the first inning since May 19, the first game of a weekend series against South Carolina. In that affair, sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford kicked off a 14-5 trouncing with a leadoff home run in his first at-bat.
Saturday, the Gators ended that streak; they had the same culprit to thank. On the third pitch of the ballgame, Langford greeted the fans in the left-field parking lot with a souvenir to take home in the form of his 22nd home run ball of the year.
The runs didn’t stop there, though. Alabama starting pitcher Garrett McMillan gave junior catcher BT Riopelle and center fielder Jud Fabian free bases in the form of a walk and HBP, setting up a two-out rally. Freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone, much like he has all week, delivered with an RBI double that plated Riopelle.
The next batter, sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera, singled to bring Fabian and Caglianone home as well. After just three outs, UF spotted themselves a 4-0 lead.
After a late-night defeat at the hands of the Texas A&M Aggies the night prior, fans of the Crimson Tide might have worried if their team had enough time to rest and reload for Saturday’s game.
Those worries quickly evaporated. An RBI single from junior catcher Dominic Tamez plated the first run of the day for ‘Bama, but the fireworks came from junior third baseman Zane Denton. With two outs on the board, Denton drilled a three-run homer to center field, bringing the Tide back to even with one thunderous moonshot.
With their first-frame onslaught canceled out, UF needed rebound runs. It got one in both of the ensuing two frames.
In the second, leading off the frame, Langford did it again. A solo shot to left field, the home run marked Langford’s 23rd of the year.
That bomb put the Trenton, Florida, native into some elite company. Only four other Gators have ever knocked 23 homers in one season. Langford placed himself in a tie for second all-time in single-season homers with Brad Wilkerson, who did it twice, and Ryan Shealy.
If Langford can deliver four more this season, he’ll pass Matt LaPorta, taking the record for himself.
“I almost expect him to hit a homerun every first pitch now,” Ficarrotta said. “I have so much confidence in him swinging the bat, it’s insane.”
In the third, Langford kept his productivity up despite not reaching base. An RBI groundout plated sophomore catcher Mac Guscette from third, bringing the score up to 6-4. Alabama had an answer of its own, though, and senior first baseman Drew Williamson was the one to deliver it.
With one runner on base, Williamson cracked a two-run shot to dead-center field, tying the game back up at six after three frames.
The Gators were, once again, dead even.
Both teams began to settle in after the third. After freshman starting pitcher Anthony Ursitti’s day was cut short to just 2.2 innings, Ficarrotta took over and began to work. He threw six strikeouts in the outing, a career high, on 97 total pitches.
“I think that’s the most innings I’ve ever pitched in my life in a row,” Ficarrotta said. “My parents were here to watch, everybody was here to watch. It was crazy and quick.”
After two scoreless frames, Florida got back to business. Like he was all day, Langford remained the center of any offensive production. The “Trenton Thunder” led the inning off with a walk and advanced to third on a single from sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson.
Riopelle grounded into a double play, but it was still enough for Langford to race down the last 90 feet of the diamond to home plate.
Florida saw another golden opportunity for runs in the seventh. With zero outs, Fabian and Caglianone occupied third and second, respectively. With two runners in scoring position, a sacrifice fly was enough to score a run and extend the lead to two.
A groundout from Rivera and a strikeout from Guscette put sophomore third baseman Colby Halter at the plate with two outs. A sacrifice fly was no longer an option, but Halter didn’t get the memo. A fly out to left center closed the side, stranding both runners in scoring position.
In a one-run ballgame, moments like that can come back to bite you. This time, it didn’t.
Florida scored four in the ninth, three of which came from Guscette’s fourth jack of the year to left field, and Ficarrotta continued to break the Tide.
“We always get an emphasis on getting the leadoff guy, just throw a ton of strikes,” Ficarrotta said. “That’s what I did, I got to do my job.”
Despite allowing two baserunners in the ninth, Ficarrotta worked through the jam to keep his shutout performance intact. One final strikeout ended the game and sent UF to the tournament semifinal.
Awaiting the team later in the day is the Aggies, who run-ruled Florida just this week in the second round of the tournament. While it is unclear who will start on the mound, the Gators will need to give up less than 10 runs, and score more than zero, to have a chance at knocking off the two seed.
The game will begin after the matchup between LSU-Kentucky Saturday.
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.