Sophomore pitcher Timmy Manning has, according to himself, not had the season he would have liked.
Manning entered Saturday’s game with a 6.60 ERA. He hadn’t pitched since April 5, a one-inning outing against Florida A&M where he allowed three hits and one earned run. In conference play, Manning worked a combined 3.1 innings against Alabama and LSU. In that time, he allowed three hits and three earned runs.
At one point this season, it appeared his time pitching this year might be over. Then, in the semifinal of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan called his name to start.
All that mattered for the Pompano Beach, Florida, native was putting together a solid outing on the biggest stage of his career. Against the No. 5 ranked team in the land, he didn’t put forth a solid outing.
He put forth a stellar one.
Manning worked five scoreless innings against the two-seeded Aggies, and the offense scrapped for runs in all but two innings. In one of the more miraculous wins of the season, the seven-seeded Gators booked their trip to the tournament final Sunday with a 9-0 win.
The scariest moment of Manning’s day came in the opening frame. After delivering two outs to open the frame, a single, followed by a 4-0 walk, put two runners on base. A double-steal play put both runners in scoring position.
The development got A&M fans on their feet, chanting and jeering at the pitcher who was trying to work through his first frame of competitive baseball in nearly two months.
In the face of deafening noise, Manning forced a groundout to close the side. Like he had never left, Manning strutted back to the dugout with his trademarked emotion on his sleeve.
“I’m here for a reason,” Manning said. “The beginning of the year didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but that’s the game of baseball. You come back, work hard, and when the opportunity’s ready, make the most of it.”
After recording just one hit Thursday against the Aggies, generating offensive production was priority No. 1 for the Gators. Junior center fielder Jud Fabian did his part, cranking out his 22nd home run of the season to left field in the second inning.
It took five at-bats to establish Saturday’s offensive performance superior to Thursday’s.
Florida continued to add to the cushion in the third, as a sacrifice fly from junior catcher BT Riopelle brought sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford home from third.
With Manning dealing scoreless frame after scoreless frame to open the ballgame, the bats continued to chip away. A walk to Fabian kickstarted the fourth, and an error got Caglianone on base as well. The next batter up, sophomore catcher Mac Guscette, brought the pair home with a lasered single down the left-field line.
In the fifth, Florida placed runners on the corners with no outs, prompting an RBI opportunity for freshman right fielder Ty Evans. A double-play was not the best-case scenario, but it was still enough to advance sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson the 90 feet separating third base and home.
After five frames, the Gators led by five against the team that run-ruled them less than 50 hours prior.
“Hitting is contagious,” Fabian said. “We had a bunch of hits and scored a bunch of runs, so we’re gonna look to keep that going tomorrow.”
A leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth ended Manning’s day, as O’Sullivan swapped him out for freshman Fisher Jameson. Before he could get to the dugout, Manning was met with an ovation from both his teammates and the fans in attendance.
“The year hasn’t gone exactly the way [Manning] wanted to,” O’Sullivan said. “But he got an opportunity today, and took full advantage of it. He pitched really really good, it’s really impressive.”
Jameson, for his part, picked up where his predecessor left off. The Lake Worth, Florida, native worked four scoreless innings with just one hit and zero walks.
On offense, Florida found little to no trouble raking up runs against the Aggies; UF scored in every inning between the second and ninth except the eighth. Langford singled for two RBIs in the sixth, and Caglianone added two of his own; one in the seventh on a sacrifice fly, and one in the ninth on a fielder’s choice.
Three outs, with one single mixed in, wrapped up the blowout affair in the ninth; despite seemingly insurmountable odds of going against a top-five team with a pitcher that hasn’t worked since Easter, UF came out on top.
Florida faces the winner of the Saturday-night matchup between Kentucky and Tennessee in the final Sunday. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m.
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.