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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Gators pitching outduels South Florida in road victory

Florida’s trio of ninth-inning home runs seals the deal

<p>Florida infielder Tyler Shelnut celebrates with his teammates after he hit a home run in the Gators&#x27; 16-2 win against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.</p>

Florida infielder Tyler Shelnut celebrates with his teammates after he hit a home run in the Gators' 16-2 win against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

Florida began the top of the ninth inning with a one-run lead, looking for some insurance to distance themselves from the South Florida Bulls.

Luckily for the Gators, they didn’t have to wait long. 

Junior designated hitter Tyler Shelnut and freshman second baseman Cade Kurland both slugged no-doubt home runs to left field off Bulls reliever Riley Skeen to give Florida a bit more breathing room. Junior left fielder Wyatt Langford added his first bomb of the year — a solo shot to right-center field later in the inning — to give UF a 6-1 lead.

The No. 7 Gators (4-0) defeated the South Florida Bulls (1-3) at Red McEwen Field in Tampa Tuesday night. In his first career start, freshman left-hander Cade Fisher carved out four innings of one-run ball; he struck out six and walked nobody. Sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone recorded three hits and was a triple away from hitting for the cycle. 

USF starter Jack Cebert found himself working out of a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the first inning. Florida junior shortstop Josh Rivera was on first and Caglianone stood at third. However, the righty got senior catcher BT Riopelle to watch strike three go by with a dandy breaking ball to the inside corner. 

The Bulls got to Fisher early on.

Bulls leadoff batter Daniel Cantu reached base when junior third baseman Colby Halter committed a throwing error — the first by any UF defender this year. Fisher hit sophomore shortstop Bobby Boser with a pitch two batters later. Two runners were on base when sophomore designated hitter Marcus Brodil thumped a double to right-center to score Cantu.

Fisher bounced back by striking out the next two hitters to end the inning. 

The left-hander ran up his consecutive strikeout count to five by setting down the Bulls in order in the second behind his lightning-quick pace. 

Caglianone — who tossed 6.2 shutout innings Sunday — showcased his two-way potential. He powered his first home run of the year 403 feet beyond the center-field wall in the top of the fourth to tie the game at one. 

UF put two runners on base for Shelnut, who froze on another fine breaking ball from Cebert. The Bulls’ starter hit Kurland with a pitch to load the bases. 

USF head coach Billy Mohl decided to bring in Ethan Brown, a left-handed pitcher, to face the lefty batter, Halter. The strategy worked, as Halter grounded into a forceout to end the threat. 

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Fisher was tested again in the fourth, dealing with two runners on base. UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made a brief mound visit, to which Fisher responded well. He induced an inning-ending groundout to shortstop by sophomore center fielder Jackson Mayo. 

After an uneventful top of the fifth, O’Sullivan dipped into his bullpen for the first time. He brought in sophomore right-hander Ryan Slater to make his first appearance of the season.

Slater hit the second batter he faced but was otherwise effective; he allowed only one hit and struck out four batters through three innings. 

The Gators earned their first lead of the game in the top of the sixth when Kurland smashed a single back up the middle to score Riopelle from second base. Riopelle previously beat the lefty-oriented shift with a bunt down the third-base line and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Brown.

The right-handed Skeen took over on the mound after Brown walked Florida redshirt freshman center fielder Michael Robertson to begin the seventh inning. Skeen worked clean seventh and eighth innings to keep the Bulls within one.

Sophomore righty Brandon Neely arrived to open the bottom of the eighth. Neely promptly struck out the side, catching the first two batters looking. 

Sandwiched between UF’s three ninth-inning homers, Robertson had himself quite the trip around the bases. 

After Kurland’s home run, Robertson walked and advanced to second on a balk by Tanner Mink, the Bulls’ new reliever. Mink attempted to pickoff Robertson at second base but accidentally threw the ball into center field, allowing the speedy outfielder to score UF’s fifth run.

Neely finished the job once Florida wrapped up its four-spot in the top of the ninth; he nailed down his first save of the season. 

The Gators rematch the Bulls Wednesday night at Condron Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Ethan Eibe at Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.

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Ethan Eibe

Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.

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