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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gators avoid collapse, win series opener in Starkville

Florida nearly blew a seven-run lead, only winning by two

<p>Florida catcher BT Riopelle unloads a hit against LSU March 27. Riopelle unleashed six RBIs Friday night against Mississippi State.</p>

Florida catcher BT Riopelle unloads a hit against LSU March 27. Riopelle unleashed six RBIs Friday night against Mississippi State.

Entering the 2022 season, both Florida and Mississippi State intended to start other pitchers tonight. 

Gators sophomore Hunter Barco and Bulldogs sophomore Landon Sims were both aces for their respective teams entering the year. Tommy John surgery ended both of their seasons early, putting sophomore Brandon Sproat and junior Brandon Smith on the mound for UF and MSU.

Sproat outlasted Smith in the series opener Friday, working four scoreless innings to open the game en route to a 8-6 victory for Florida (27-18, 9-13 SEC) over the Bulldogs (25-21, 9-13 SEC).

Sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford continued his hot streak since assuming the leadoff position, roping a single into right field to get on base. Two quick walks from sophomore right fielder Sterlin Thompson and junior center fielder Jud Fabian loaded the bases with no outs. 

Junior catcher BT Riopelle was up to the plate with an RBI opportunity; the transfer from Coastal Carolina cashed in, delivering a two-RBI single that got Florida on the board after the first, up 2-0.

On the bottom side of the frame, it would’ve been tough for Sproat to work any quicker. After just five pitches, the Pace, Florida, native strutted back to the dugout with three outs under his belt.

Sproat continued his recent run of good form for the Gators, working six innings while allowing just two runs and six hits. His five total strikeouts on 98 pitches was enough to keep the Mississippi State bats at bay for most of the night. He allowed just one walk.

Florida continued to pile on in the second, and the scoring came from the usual suspects. In his second at-bat of the night, Langford sent a booming two-out solo homer to center field. With a newly established three-run lead, Thompson walked and Fabian singled to put two runners on base.

Once again, Riopelle had a chance to bring home some runs, and he once again delivered. Providing a brief bat flip for good measure, Riopelle rocketed a no-doubter home run to the stands in right field. After just two frames, Florida held a six-run lead.

The next run came in the fifth, as Riopelle singled to open the inning. After Riopelle advanced to second on a flyout, Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis opted to replace Smith with sophomore Mikey Tepper.

Tepper proved unable to keep Riopelle from reaching home; junior first baseman Kendrick Calilao dinged a single into shallow center field, plating the seventh run of the night for UF. 

The hosting Bulldogs finally got on the board in the fifth inning. Sproat allowed back-to-back singles to open the side, and State made him pay when sophomore shortstop Lane Forsythe delivered an RBI to cut the lead to six. One sacrifice flyout later, the lead was just five.

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With the score now 7-2, the Gators looked to a familiar face for the rebound run: Riopelle. Two runners were placed on base, and Riopelle knocked a double that brought home one of them, increasing the lead back to six at 8-2 in the sixth.

Redshirt freshman Blake Purnell relieved Sproat, ending the starters’ day, but he wouldn’t last an inning. Purnell allowed three runs and placed another runner on base, prompting head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to replace him with freshman Philip Abner after two outs.

Abner delivered the final out of the seventh, catching the Bulldogs batter looking on a strikeout.

The lone out in the seventh was his only moment to shine; redshirt freshman Nick Ficarrotta replaced him to open the eighth inning. Continuing his stretch of matchup-based pitching replacements, O’Sullivan pulled Ficarrotta for freshman Ryan Slater after two batters in the eighth.

Slater, a Palm Harbor, Florida, native, delivered two outs to end the eighth but not before allowing a run on a groundout. Entering the ninth, UF, which led 7-0 at one point, led by just two.

After Florida came up empty in the top of the ninth, the onus was on the defense, and Slater, to close out the game. 

Two flyouts opened the inning before Mississippi State secured a two-out single. With the tying run at the plate, Slater iced the series-opener by forcing a groundout. 

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Gators secured a win nonetheless.

Florida returns tomorrow, seeking a road series win for the first time since the series against Alabama in late March. First pitch is slated for 7:30 p.m.; the game will be broadcasted on ESPNU.

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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