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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida scrapes by, stays alive in NCAA Regional

Nick Ficarrotta closed out a bases-loaded ninth inning to secure the win

<p>Sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford rounds third base March 27 against LSU. Langford rocketed two homers in Sunday&#x27;s win over Central Michigan.</p>

Sophomore left fielder Wyatt Langford rounds third base March 27 against LSU. Langford rocketed two homers in Sunday's win over Central Michigan.

Florida baseball found itself on the doorstep of elimination Sunday despite hosting its own regional in Gainesville. 

A painful loss to Oklahoma the night before put the Gators’ season in jeopardy, needing an additional win against Central Michigan to stay alive in the fight for a super regional appearance. Florida got the necessary win, defeating the Chippewas 6-5 Sunday afternoon. 

Central Michigan’s starting pitcher Logan Buczkowski came out firing, pelting 95 mph fastballs at the Gators’ batters. The velocity was no joke, but placement of the throws began to put the senior right-hander in danger. He threw just 33 strikes in his first 60 pitches.

A warning shot came in the form of a standup triple from sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera in the second inning. Sophomore catcher Mac Guscette grounded out the next at-bat to bring in Rivera for Florida’s opening run. 

Sophomore outfielder Wyatt Langford took the plate in the third and added to the score, sending a solo-shot homer bouncing off the right-field wall padding and into the Dizney Grove. It marked his 24th home run of the year, the second most by a Gator in a single season. An error from CMU’s shortstop, junior Justin Simpson, deep into the inning opened the door for sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson to score an additional run.

After three frames at the plate, Florida led 3-0. 

Langford kept the hot streak going in the fourth, sending another solo home run into the center-field wall to increase the Gators' lead to four. In the fifth, Rivera added to the Chippewas’ misery by stealing home for a 5-0 lead.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Nick Pogue put forth solid production. Through 4 innings, the right-hander allowed just three hits, threw two punchouts and held Central Michigan scoreless. Fortunes changed for Pogue in the fifth as center fielder Robby Morgan blasted a homer to the opposite field.

The Gators led 5-1 heading into the sixth.

After a standing triple from CMU, freshman Blake Purnell took the mound in relief of Pogue. He quickly let up an RBI single. Purnell was almost immediately pulled from the game in favor of fellow first-year Phillip Abner. 

Abner walked in a run on a 4-0 walk, forcing Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to make another change on the mound, bringing in freshman righty Tyler Nesbitt. He gave up two back-to-back runs, bringing the game even at five runs with the Gators bullpen running thin. 

In the bottom of the seventh, freshman Ryan Slater came in for Nesbitt with one runner on. Slater put UF in a precarious position by letting up a single, but converted a double play and a groundout with a runner on third to close the frame without a score. 

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Florida went scoreless in the eighth, but Slater retired his side in order to keep the game tied up heading into the ninth inning. The top of the Gators’ batting order was due up with a chance at the lead.

Langford and Thompson walked on full counts, bringing junior first baseman BT Riopelle to the plate with the possible leading run in scoring position. Central Michigan met on the mound and decided to let reliever Garrett Navarra stay in to finish the job. Riopelle bunted into a groundout to advance Langford to third base.

Ty Evans was next at the plate. He sent up a sac fly to bring Langford home, giving the Gators a one-run lead. Slater took to the rubber with a shot to close the game with a win, advancing Florida to the next round.

Slater gave up a single through the infield gap, placing the potential walk-off run at the plate. CMU grabbed a single on a near-miss diving play from Langford, bringing the Gators that much closer to elimination. 

Slater then walked the bases full and was subsequently pulled for redshirt freshman Nick Ficarrotta. The right-hander needed just one out to ice the game.

Central Michigan senior Aidan Shepardson popped out and handed the Gators the victory.

With the win, Florida advances to play Oklahoma at 7 p.m. If the Gators scrape together another victory, they’ll have a shot at the regional championship Monday.

Contact Jackson Castellano at Follow him on Twitter @jaxacastellano.

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Jackson Castellano

Jackson Castellano is a third-year sports media journalism student and the Digital Managing Editor at The Alligator for Spring 2024. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.

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