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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Gators explode in the ninth, secure series victory in Starkville

Florida scored six runs in the top of the ninth to secure a victory

<p>Florida&#x27;s Sterlin Thompson eyes a hit and runs down the first base line against Jacksonville on March 14, 2021.</p>

Florida's Sterlin Thompson eyes a hit and runs down the first base line against Jacksonville on March 14, 2021.

Entering the top of the ninth, Florida found itself in a familiar position of tension. The Gators needed a big push to close out the game, much like they’ve needed against Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt before.

In those games, Florida fell short. Tonight, the team relied on its youth to bring the win and series victory home.

With the help of a six-run ninth inning, the Gators (28-18, 10-13 SEC) topped the Mississippi State Bulldogs (25-21, 9-14 SEC) in a 9-3 thriller.

In the first inning, fans wouldn’t be blamed for thinking they turned on Friday’s series opener by accident. Just like Friday, sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford opened the game with a hit, followed by walks for sophomore right fielder Sterlin Thompson and junior center fielder Jud Fabian.

On Friday, junior catcher BT Riopelle arrived at the plate with the bases loaded and delivered a two-RBI single. He settled for a sacrifice-flyout to left field in game two of the series, plating Langford. Two subsequent strikeouts stranded the other two runners on base.

MSU answered right back in the bottom half of the inning, working runners onto the corners before sophomore catcher Logan Tanner roped an RBI single that brought senior second baseman RJ Yeager home. 

Despite the jam, Neely otherwise worked his way through the frame, delivering two strikeouts in the process. They were two of his seven K’s on the night, one shy of tying his career high. 

In the fourth inning, however, Neely allowed his second run of the night. After walking the leadoff batter, freshman Hunter Hines, a double from sophomore Kellum Clark brought him home. 

After 13 innings played this weekend, the Bulldogs secured their first lead of the series. 

The lead failed to last a frame. Langford got the offense kicking in the fifth with a single and Thompson trailed right behind on a walk. Fabian and Riopelle both went down looking to put the RBI opportunity in jeopardy, but freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone converted with a two-run double.

Just like that, Florida was back up 3-2.

Neely’s night ended in the homeside of the fifth, putting two runners on base before head coach Kevin O’Sullivan pulled him for freshman Philip Abner. Neely finished his four-inning day of work with four hits, four walks, seven strikeouts and two runs on 86 pitches. 

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Abner got Florida out of the jam, exiting the fifth with the score still at 3-2, but he would last just 1.1 innings. Abner allowed a single and a hit-by-pitch combo to open the sixth; after ending his outing with a strikeout, O’Sullivan replaced him with fellow freshman Fisher Jameson. 

Jameson, a Lake Worth, Florida, native, delivered two outs to escape the sixth and preserve the Gators lead.

In the seventh, he was unable to do the same. After allowing a leadoff double, the MSU runner reached home on a double-play ball that gave Florida two outs but sacrificed the lead. Freshman Ryan Slater replaced Jameson after another two base runners reached, closing out the inning with a flyout.

With two innings remaining, the ballgame sat tied.

Both sides worked scoreless frames in the eighth, setting up a pivotal final inning. Thompson managed a leadoff single to put Southeastern Conference home-run leader Fabian at the plate, but he struck out looking. 

Riopelle was next, who walked to slide Thompson into scoring position. 

Once again, Caglianone was up to bat with runs on the line. The freshman delivered. 

A one-out double plated Thompson, putting the orange and blue ahead by one. Sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera was up next, but he was intentionally walked by the Bulldogs. 

Who knows if junior first baseman Kendrick Calilao took offense to being brought to the plate after walking his preceding batter. If he did, he certainly made MSU pay with a two-run double that pushed the score to 6-3.

With boos raining down on Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Mississippi, freshman right fielder Ty Evans iced the game with a three-run home run to right field.

Entering the bottom of the ninth, UF led 9-3. Three quick outs in the bottom of the ninth from Slater made that score the final. Florida secured its second-straight weekend series victory and will go for the sweep Sunday.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 2 p.m. The action can be viewed on SEC Network+.

Contact Carson Cashion at ccashion@alligator.org. 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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