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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Florida bats bring the goods in conference play

Gators slugged 15 homers in first 2 SEC series

Florida two-way player Jac Caglianone walks to the dugout after a home run in the Gators' 14-6 loss to the Miami Hurricanes March 4, 2023.
Florida two-way player Jac Caglianone walks to the dugout after a home run in the Gators' 14-6 loss to the Miami Hurricanes March 4, 2023.

Florida sophomore first baseman and two-way star Jac Caglianone took to the batter’s box for the seventh time in the series March 25.

The nation’s top home run hitter drove two out of the park in game one; he took the Ole Miss Rebels long in the second game for his third of the day. Caglianone’s power stroke accentuated the Gators’ second-straight series win in conference play and continued the team’s elite start to the season.

The No. 3 Florida Gators (22-4, 5-1 SEC) swept the No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels (15-9, 0-6 SEC) in a three-game series. UF started the Southeastern Conference season with a series win over the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Bama series was a proper pitcher’s duel instead of Florida’s usual offensive firepower. The two teams traded five scoreless innings to start the series opener March 16.

UF freshman second baseman Cade Kurland delivered the decisive blow in the sixth inning. The Tampa product bashed a two-run homer to give Florida the lead, and junior right-hander Brandon Sproat finished the job with his shutout.

Sproat delivered the best performance of his career. He tossed a complete-game shutout and earned national pitcher of the week honors.

“I just go out there and throw the ball as hard as I can every time,” Sproat said. “It works for me."

Clutch hits have become a staple of this Gators team over the last week.

In game two against the Crimson Tide, Florida trailed by one run heading into the bottom of the ninth. Junior third baseman Colby Halter drilled a leadoff home run to tie the game. A single and hit-by-pitch put two runners on base for junior shortstop Josh Rivera.

The Avon Park, Florida, native is in the midst of a career year. Rivera set new career highs with 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in despite playing just 26 games. Rivera delivered arguably his biggest hit of the season to date against Alabama March 17.

The junior infielder took a strike then hit a weak chopper in front of home plate. While the contact was far from perfect, it was enough for the winning run to score and secure a series victory for the Gators.

Clutch offense powered Florida in a midweek road trip to face rival Florida State March 21. The Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the eighth inning, but the bats came alive and rattled off a five-run rally to secure a comfortable rivalry win.

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“[We] started the game a little bit slow,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “First time we've been on the road in a while, but we hung in there.”

UF continued its road trip with its first weekend road stint of the season: a three-game series against reigning national champion Ole Miss.

After severe weather postponed the series opener March 24, Sproat returned to the mound for game one of a Saturday doubleheader. The junior ace didn’t replicate his dominance against Bama.

Sproat allowed five runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings before sophomore left-hander Philip Abner relieved him. Abner pitched 2 1/3 scoreless frames, and he gave the Gators a chance to rally back.

Rivera started the eighth inning with a solo homer to cut the lead to two, and Kurland scored a trio of Florida baserunners with a double. Caglianone added a solo shot — his second of the game — in the ninth as the Gators took game one.

Kurland’s game-winning double was his first hit of the game. The freshman struggled in his first three plate appearances with two strikeouts and a groundout, but he delivered in the biggest moment of the afternoon.

“The bottom line is the game always seems to come back to you,” O’Sullivan said. “The game called him at that time, and he came through — and obviously that was really, really big.”

Florida clinched the series and swept the doubleheader. The Gators got off to a much better start at the plate and took a 6-0 lead after the top of the third. Ole Miss battled back with a five-run frame, but UF never wavered.

The Gators scored six runs down the stretch — including three in the top of the ninth — to secure a 12-8 victory that clinched another series for Florida. UF secured its first SEC sweep of the season with a 7-4 win March 26 — the Gators’ first sweep in Oxford, Mississippi, since 1988.

Florida will face the Seminoles for the second time this season March 28 in Jacksonville. The Gators will then host the Auburn Tigers in a three-game weekend series starting March 31. The midweek showdown with Florida State will be broadcast on ACC Network, and the Auburn series will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Topher Adams at tadams@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.


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