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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gators romp Gamecocks, return to .500 in conference play

A 14-5 win Thursday night sets up a potential series victory Friday

<p>Sophomore Wyatt Langford delivered his 26th home run of the season Monday, tying Matt LaPorta for most homers in a single season from a UF batter. </p>

Sophomore Wyatt Langford delivered his 26th home run of the season Monday, tying Matt LaPorta for most homers in a single season from a UF batter.

From bullpen catcher in 2021 to Southeastern Conference home run leader in 2022, sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford has a remarkable story to tell.

In the opening game of a weekend series with the South Carolina Gamecocks, Langford kept his hot streak burning with two more homers.

Sophomore starting pitcher Brandon Sproat pitched 6.1 innings for the Gators (34-19, 14-14), as Florida rolled over South Carolina (26-26, 12-16) 14-5 behind four total homers.

Earlier this week, sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford drilled the first pitch he saw from Florida State’s starting pitcher out of the ballpark. He went on to record another home run, his 19th of the season, in the third.

Langford once again led off against South Carolina starting pitcher Brett Thomas; adding another name to his list of unfortunate pitchers, the Trenton native welcomed him to Condron Ballpark with a leadoff home run off the pitcher’s eye.

With that home run, Langford became the sixth Gator in history to record 20 jacks in one season, joining junior center fielder Jud Fabian who accomplished the feat last season.

“It felt great,” Langford said. “Especially at this point in the season heading into the postseason, it’s a great time to be hot right now. It’s looking pretty good.”

For Sproat, the Pace, Florida, native worked two hitless innings to open the game. Despite the zero on the scoreboard, he allowed one walk in both frames. Those free bases came back to bite him in the third, as two plunked batters and a walk loaded the bases for USC. 

Senior right fielder Andrew Eyster, an Ocala native and product of Santa Fe Community College, drilled an RBI double into left field that brought home two runners. Sproat escaped the inning with just the two runs on the board, but the Gamecocks took the lead.

Sproat, in one of his weaker performances since taking over the series-opening role, still kept the boat afloat. Despite four runs passing on his watch, only two of them were earned. He added three strikeouts on 86 total pitches.

The South Carolina lead lasted less than an inning. A leadoff double for sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson put a base runner in scoring position for Fabian. He delivered, hammering an RBI double to tie the game at two apiece.

Freshman right fielder Ty Evans kept the momentum going in the fourth, sending the second leadoff homer of the night to center field to claim a 3-2 Gators lead.

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Junior first baseman Kris Armstrong walked to first on a free base after the jack and sophomore third baseman Colby Halter singled to put two runners on base for Langford.

The 20-home run man was hit by a pitch, bringing Thompson to the plate with a juiced set of bases.

Thompson, who drilled a walk-off homer against FSU Tuesday, flew a sacrifice fly to deep left to plate Armstrong. Entering the fifth inning, UF reclaimed the lead, 4-2.

That advantage evaporated. Sproat plunked his third batter of the night with two outs, and an ensuing double from Eyster brought the Carolina runner home. The next batter delivered a pop-up that was lost in the sky by the Florida fielders, giving Eyster enough time to reach home.

Continuing the ping-pong-esque back-and-forth, junior catcher BT Riopelle singled to open the fifth. Sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera singled, advancing Riopelle to second. An RBI single from freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone plated Riopelle, and back-to-back sacrifice flys brought Rivera and Caglianone home.

Just like that, UF was back on top, 7-4.

After a quiet sixth inning, Sproat was replaced with freshman Philip Abner.

Abner, a southpaw, worked a single out against USC before he was replaced with redshirt freshman Blake Purnell who forced the final out to close the seventh.

Looking to slam the coffin shut on the Gamecocks, Caglianone rocketed the fourth home run of his career to left-center, a two-run shot that plated Riopelle as well. With six outs to go for the Gators, the lead extended to five.

To add insult to injury, Langford sent another ball to the parking lot in the eighth; his 21st homer of the year pushed him past Tennessee slugger Trey Lipscomb for the conference lead. 

“I don’t know if we’ve seen anything like this,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He’s seeing the ball really good, and he’s got the flair for the dramatic. If I try to explain or put into words what we’re seeing right now, it probably wouldn’t do it any justice.”

Not only that, but the solo shot raised the score to double digits, and the team home run total to triple digits. Langford’s homer was the 100th home run of the season for the orange and blue.

Florida scored another handle of runs against the South Carolina relievers, entering the ninth inning at a score of 14-4. 

Freshman Anthony Ursitti took over for Purnell in the ninth, closing out two outs before allowing a home run to sophomore Jack Mahoney.

Florida returns Friday as it attempts to capture a series victory for the fourth-straight weekend. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. on SEC Network+.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.

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