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Monday, May 27, 2024

Sproat proves too much for Chippewas, Gators win game one of regional 7-3

Sophomore pitcher Brandon Sproat threw a career-high 114 pitches

<p>Florida&#x27;s Colby Halter chases after a ball on March 14 during a game against Jacksonville. He recorded 3 RBIs in UF&#x27;s 7-3 win over Central Michigan Friday.</p>

Florida's Colby Halter chases after a ball on March 14 during a game against Jacksonville. He recorded 3 RBIs in UF's 7-3 win over Central Michigan Friday.

Sophomore pitcher Brandon Sproat never heard the Condron Ballpark as loud as it was Friday night. He didn’t realize the crowd’s magnitude until he was standing on the mound.

Florida needed all of the momentum the 5,472 fans could muster as it opened its Gainesville regional play against the 42-win Central Michigan Chippewas.

Sproat started on the mound, and despite allowing five hits he struck out five batters and allowed just one run en route to a 7-3 win.

“Credit to Florida, their starting pitcher,” CMU head coach Jordan Bischel said. “That was as good a performance as I’ve seen. It’s pretty remarkable, he made himself some money tonight.”

Before he registered a single out, Sproat allowed two hits in the opening frame Friday and advanced both runners into scoring position via a balk. Last weekend, Sproat didn’t allow South Carolina a hit in the first six frames of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, an 8.1-inning clinic. 

With the help of the lone section of CMU fans, the visiting dugout generated the only noise in the ballpark; the runners in scoring position exhaled all of the momentum out of the Gators in the stands.

But the orange-and-blue claden fans erupted at their first opportunity. Cheers showered Sproat as he trotted back to the dugout after three consecutive outs, finalized by a groundout fielded by sophomore shortstop Josh Rivera to close the first.

Sproat allowed at least one hit in each of the first three innings, finally sitting down the side in the fourth. Central Michigan peppered Sproat with base runners throughout the Pace, Florida, native’s day of work. 

The Chippewas cashed one of those hits into a run in the third. Junior shortstop Justin Simpson singled to open the frame. Two batters later, sophomore first baseman Danny Wuestenfeld brought him home to strike the first run of the night.

It took two Florida batters to tie the game back up.

Sophomore second baseman Sterlin Thompson, who singled in his first at-bat of the night, barrelled up on the opening pitch of his plate appearance. He delivered his 11th home run of the season to Dizney Grove, tying the game at one after the first third of the ballgame.

The home run covered up what was an otherwise lethargic performance on offense in the early stages of the game. CMU starting pitcher sophomore Andrew Taylor threw eight strikeouts through the first three innings, allowing just three base runners outside of the moonshot from Thompson.

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The Gators’ go-ahead run came in the fifth as Taylor began to slow down. Facing a 1-0 count, sophomore third baseman Colby Halter drilled a solo home run to nearly the same spot in the Grove that Thompson found. With the shot, Florida took the lead.

In the next inning, with a new pitcher from Central Michigan, Florida doubled its lead with an RBI double from freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone. The Tampa, Florida, product roped a stand-up double that plated junior center fielder Jud Fabian to push the score to 3-1.

Sproat’s last stand came in the seventh. After working two outs to open the frame, a single and a walk placed two runners on base and the go-ahead run at the plate. Sproat’s pitch count was at 112, already a career-high. 

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made the trip to the mound, signaling the starter’s night might have been over. 

“No, no, no,” Sproat said to O’Sullivan. The coach decided to trust his best arm.

The ensuing lineout ended the frame, and warranted a standing ovation for Sproat.

Freshman Ryan Slater took over to close out a suspenseful final two frames. A leadoff single and two separate hit-by-pitches loaded the bases for Slater with two outs on the board. 

Ahead 0-2 in the count, Slater worked a swinging strikeout to close the side. He strutted off the field visibly emotional. The crowd matched his intensity with thunderous applause.

The momentum carried into the bottom half of the side. Caglianone singled with one out, bringing home his second and third RBIs of the night. 

UF carried a 7-1 lead into the ninth.

Neely allowed two runs in the ninth, but both proved inconsequential. A final strikeout from the closer ended the game.

“It feels kind of like a weekend series,” Caglianone said. “Everyone is kind of in that groove now which is nice.”

Florida punched its ticket into the winner’s bracket; they’ll meet 2-seed Oklahoma Sooners Saturday at 7 p.m. at Condron Ballpark. 

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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