Florida fans almost had a rough day at the ballpark.
After five hours of rain delays, the crowd finally returned to bleachers to witness Florida hold a 1-0 lead until nearly the end, only to relinquish the run which sent the game to extras, extending the long day into a long night with the possibility of another brutal walk-off loss.
Luckily for the orange and blue faithful in attendance, they went home happy. The Gators finished the contest on the other side of the walk-off shenanigans.
No. 6 Florida defeated No. 10 South Carolina 2-1 in extra innings Tuesday to secure a second round appearance for UF in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Sproat started on the mound after pitching 6.1 innings against the Gamecocks in a 15-4 win Thursday. The right-hander didn’t skip a beat, throwing three scoreless innings and sitting six consecutive batters to open the contest.
The Gators matched South Carolina’s production early on, bringing in zero runs and leaving two batters on through the opening third of the ballgame. Headed into the fourth inning, the scoreboard was all zeroes.
“That was just a good old-fashioned pitching duel,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s a shame someone had to lose that.”
Florida struck first in the bottom of the fourth. Freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone reached first on a throwing error from Gamecock shortstop Michael Braswell. The mistake turned out to be costly, allowing sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera to score.
Sproat continued to deal, throwing four strikeouts in the next three innings, before allowing his first hit of the ballgame on a single in the top of the seventh. The Gamecocks nearly brought the score even, but a laser from the hands of left fielder Wyatt Langford caught the runner at home for the inning-closing out.
Florida led 1-0 headed into the ninth, just three outs away from a second round appearance in the SEC Tournament. Sproat was given the green light to take the mound to close the game. He is now the only Gators pitcher to throw eight complete innings all season.
Gamecock second baseman Braylen Wimmer singled through the infield gap, bringing the potential game-winning run to the plate in the form of senior designated hitter Josiah Sightler. He sent the ball into right field, reaching first base and moving a runner to third in the process.
Andrew Eyster then took the plate for South Carolina. The Santa Fe College transfer recorded 52 RBIs in the regular season, which was all the persuasion O’Sullivan needed to replace Sproat on the mound with freshman reliever Ryan Slater. The right fielder brought home the equalizer on a fielder’s choice.
Instead of the win, Florida searched for the third out to secure another plate appearance. Slater snagged the punchout and kept the Gators alive.
UF couldn’t convert on its last chance, meaning the contest needed extra innings for a result to be determined. The Gamecocks got the first crack at securing a second round appearance.
Slater let up a single before quickly closing the frame on the next at-bat. Once more, the Gators took the plate with a chance to walk-off South Carolina.
With freshman Ty Evans at the plate, pinch hitter Kendrick Calilao lined the ball out to center, giving the infielder an opportunity to bring himself home as the winning run. Evans hesitated at third as the throw neared home plate.
By the time it sailed over the catcher’s head, it was too late for the right fielder to take advantage, leaving him stuck on third base.
The very next at-bat, Evans had a near-identical opportunity. Junior third baseman Colby Halter hit another line drive to center, which was gloved and immediately thrown home.
Evans was met by the catcher at the plate, but made contact with home base before he could be tagged, securing the win for the Gators.
“Brandon pitched his butt off, so we really wanted to win it for him,” Halter said. “We knew we were gonna close it out. I’m glad I was the one to do it.”
Next up, Florida takes on Texas A&M in the next leg of the SEC Tournament. The Gators have yet to face the Aggies this season, meaning UF will face a fresh and formidable challenge against a team with the second-best record in the SEC.
First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.