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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gators fall to Sooners, face elimination Sunday

Starting pitcher freshman Brandon Neely lasted just 2.1 innings

<p>Freshman pitcher Brandon Neely throws a pitch against LSU March 27, 2022. Neely worked just 2.1 innings Saturday against Oklahoma.</p>

Freshman pitcher Brandon Neely throws a pitch against LSU March 27, 2022. Neely worked just 2.1 innings Saturday against Oklahoma.

Florida could face elimination Sunday after falling to the Oklahoma Sooners 9-4 Saturday.

The Gainesville regional’s second seed brought a Big 12 Tournament title belt to Condron Ballpark, as well as a No. 9 ranking from D1Baseball. The Gators’ lower-seeded opponent ranked nine spots above them in the Top 25.

In a classic can’t-get-out-of-its-own-way performance from UF, the regional’s 1-seed fell to Sunday’s loser’s bracket following spotty pitching and lackluster hitting.

“Seemed like any time we had some momentum or a run on the board, we gave it right back up the next inning,” Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

The only two freshmen in the starting lineup, Ty Evans and Jac Caglianone opened up Florida’s offense. Their flurry of homers gave the Gators a two-run lead that failed to last a full inning.

Evans led off the second inning with a 1-0 pitch blast into the left-field berm, marking up the scorecard for the first time. Two batters later, Caglianone delivered a missile off the batter’s eye in center field.

Freshman starting pitcher Brandon Neely allowed two baserunners, and the Sooners broke through in the third. He worked one strikeout, but the third batter of the frame, sophomore shortstop Peyton Graham, tied the game with one swing. 

Graham stared down the UF dugout as he trotted to first base after a home run. Junior first baseman BT Riopelle had choice words after the Sooner erased Florida’s lead.

Oklahoma took its first lead when sophomore first baseman Blake Robertson drove the second homer in two at-bats to right field.

The final score of the frame proved to be the most controversial, as the baserunner from third raced home on a wild pitch. Sophomore catcher Mac Guscette couldn’t reach the ball as the batter stood in front of him, but interference was not ruled.

Freshman Fisher Jameson took over for Neely to close the third, ending the starter’s 2.1-inning day of work.

Florida was unable to garner rebound runs in the third or fourth, giving the Sooner bats a chance to keep the momentum. 

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Sophomore left fielder Kendall Pettis darted home from third to score the Sooners’ fifth run of the night; an ensuing walk booted Jameson from the mound.

Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan brought redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt in from the bullpen. The Labelle, Florida, native worked two innings but allowed just one moonshot run from sophomore catcher Jimmy Crooks.

With time dwindling, the Gators found offense from a familiar face. Evans arrived at the plate with runners on second and third with one out in the sixth. He fell feet short of a three-run homer to bring Florida within one run.

Nevertheless, a sacrifice fly brought sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson home from third.

Crooks, an early All-Tournament name selection, drilled his second homer of the night to right field in the seventh, canceling out the sixth-frame score from Florida and instead adding one to the OU lead.

Both teams traded a run before the curtain closed, but neither proved consequential. Florida exited the ballgame with three straight outs in the bottom of the ninth.

UF faces a familiar foe in Sunday’s elimination game. The first pitch against Central Michigan, the team Florida topped Friday 7-3, is slated for 1 p.m. 

“It’s kinda like a mother and a child,” Riopelle said. “We’re gonna do anything to protect our child, and that’s our season right now.”

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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