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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Gators survive rain delay, dominate Wildcats 9-1

The win secures a series victory over Kentucky, Florida’s first since the Arkansas series

<p>Florida Gators baseball added a member to its coaching staff Monday in Taylor Black.</p>

Florida Gators baseball added a member to its coaching staff Monday in Taylor Black.

Fans arrived to see their Florida Gators go for a series victory over the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday, but they wouldn’t see the final pitch until early Sunday morning.

Before either team could take the field, Mother Nature made her presence known in Gainesville. Dark clouds surrounded Condron Ballpark for much of the afternoon, but a few phases of rainfall close to 6 p.m. were enough to delay the start of the affair.

Fans waited underneath the stands for the rain to pass. Once finished, they migrated back to the berm and their normal seats. The game wouldn’t start until 6:55 p.m., and would be delayed over two hours once again, but the Gators emerged victorious nonetheless. 

Freshman starting pitcher Brandon Neely worked four scoreless innings, as the Gators (25-17, 8-12 SEC) topped the Wildcats (23-20, 6-14 SEC) 9-1.

On Friday, sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford started in the leadoff spot for Florida for the first time all season. In the bottom of the first, he sent a solo homer past the wall.

He was one base shy of matching his leadoff firepower on Saturday, settling for a triple. Sophomore right fielder Sterlin Thompson was able to plate him on an infield single, though, marking the first run of the game.

The next run came on the next play; junior center fielder Jud Fabian roped a double down the left-field line, giving Thompson enough time to slide into home. 

Keeping the momentum going was junior catcher BT Riopelle, knocking an RBI single into shallow right that brought Fabian home. After the first, Florida already sat on a 3-0 lead.

The offense continued cranking in the second, and sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera was the guy to get it started. Sending a leadoff solo to the deepest part of Condron Ballpark. The Avon Park, Florida, native kicked the run total up to 4-0. 

With the home run, Florida hit for the cycle as a team within the first seven batters.

An RBI double from Thompson, plating freshman third baseman Deric Fabian, made it 5-0. After Jud was intentionally walked, Riopelle generated his second and third RBIs of the night on a single, bringing the score to 7-0 entering the third frame.

On defense, Neely continued his hot streak since earning a consistent starting job earlier this season. Throwing four scoreless and hitless innings, he earned four K’s on 54 pitches.

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His start was abbreviated because one out into the bottom of the fourth, Mother Nature re-entered the game. 

Fans once again scurried to cover as rain poured onto the field; the home plate umpire promptly delayed the ballgame, this time bringing out the entire infield tarp.

Fans slowly trickled out of the ballpark and out to their cars over the next hour as the clouds continued to open up.

At 10:20 p.m., with the tarp removed and the rain finished, the ballgame resumed.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt assumed the mound for Neely, as it was unfeasible for Neely to return after such a long pause.

Nesbitt only worked 1.2 innings, delivering three K’s but allowing two hits and a walk. After hitting a batter to put two runners on, he was replaced by fellow redshirt freshman Blake Purnell.

The first scoring play after the break came from sophomore second baseman Colby Halter. Breaking an 0 for 20 streak for the Jacksonville, Florida, native, Halter laid down an RBI bunt single that plated Riopelle.

The next was UK’s first score of the night. Junior shortstop Ryan Ritter drove home a run on an RBI double, but that would be it for the ‘Cats; Purnell closed the sixth with a swinging strikeout immediately afterward.

Freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone added one more run for good measure in the seventh, jacking a solo homer to deep left to push Florida’s run total to nine.

Purnell only lasted one inning himself. Despite throwing two K’s, he let two base runners on, just like Nesbitt, and was promptly replaced, just like Nesbitt.

Redshirt freshman Nick Ficarrotta took over on the mound, cleaning up the final seven outs of the game. The handful of UF fans left at the park saw their team secure its first series win since the Arkansas series, just as the clock passed midnight.

Florida returns to action Sunday, vying for the series sweep over Kentucky. First pitch is slated for noon.

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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