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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Florida use late-game rally to secure game one win against Ole Miss

Gators scored six in final two frames of victory

Florida shortstop Josh Rivera celebrates a run during the Gators' 13-7 win against Cincinnati Bearcats Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.
Florida shortstop Josh Rivera celebrates a run during the Gators' 13-7 win against Cincinnati Bearcats Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.

Second baseman Cade Kurland walked to the plate. 

The standout freshman struggled early with three strikeouts in his first three at-bats. Those struggles didn’t matter to Kurland.

Down two with the bases loaded, the freshman lofted a ball deep into the gap in right-center field. All three runners came home, and Kurland delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit.

The No. 3 Florida Gators (20-4, 3-1 SEC) defeated the No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels (15-7, 0-4 SEC) 9-7. UF scored six runs in the last two innings to secure a game one victory over the reigning national champions. 

Sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone stepped into the batter's box with two outs away in the first inning. The nation’s leader in home runs turned on the ball and launched a laser into straight away center field for his 14th long ball of the season to put Florida on the board first.

Junior Gators right-handed pitcher Brandon Sproat came to the plate fresh off a complete-game shutout against Alabama March 16. Sproat’s first pitch plunked Ole Miss outfielder Ethan Groff, and catcher Calvin Harris ripped a single to deep center field.

Rebels shortstop Jacob Gonzalez hit a ground ball to Caglianone at first. The Gators’ slugger made the play at first, but Harris advanced to second and Groff came home to tie the game. Outfielder Kemp Alderman singled to score Harris and give Ole Miss the lead.

Sproat battled back after his early struggles. He struck out a pair of Rebels to strand Alderman and get out of the inning.

Florida’s bats couldn’t keep the pressure on Ole Miss. Righty Jack Dougherty struck out two Gators and forced a weak ground out to end a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Sproat matched his Rebels counterpart with a strikeout to start the next frame. He forced a weak ground out and had Ole Miss third baseman Ethan Lege in a 0-2 hole. Sproat missed his mark, though, and hit Lege — the second hit-by-pitch in as many innings.

The Gators’ ace bounced back and struck out Groff to end the second.

Dougherty worked another fast 1-2-3 inning. Sproat matched Dougherty’s efficient frame with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Alderman went up 3-0 in the count, but the Gators’ righty worked back and struck him out swinging to end the third.

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Rivera got on base with a fielder’s choice and stole second base to get into scoring position. Senior catcher BT Riopelle struck out, but sophomore right fielder Ty Evans blasted a double to deep right field to score Rivera and tie the game.

Rebels first baseman Antony Calarco doubled to center field in the bottom of the fourth. Second baseman Peyton Chatagnier hit the ball just inside the third base line for a double to score Calarco and give Ole Miss the lead.

Right fielder TJ McCants accounted for the Rebels’ third-straight hit, and Chatagnier looked to extend their lead. Florida redshirt freshman center fielder Michael Robertson snagged the ball in shallow center and ripped it to Riopelle, who tagged Chatagnier at the plate.

McCants stole second, and a wild pitch from Sproat allowed the Ole Miss outfielder to move to third. Sproat walked Lege, and Groff came to the box with two outs and runners on the corners. He singled up the gut to score McCants and double the lead.

Harris lifted a pitch over Kurland’s outstretched glove at second base; Lege came home to give the Rebels a 5-2 lead. Caglianone secured a ground ball at first base to finally end a long fourth inning for the Gators. 

Robertson started the fifth with a leadoff walk and advanced to second after a weak grounder from Kurland. Junior designated hitter Wyatt Langford — playing in his first game since March 10 — walked to give Caglianone a pair of baserunners and a chance to tie the game.

Dougherty hit Caglianone, and Rivera came to the plate with bases loaded and one out. Florida’s shortstop nearly hit into a double play but got to first base in time; Robertson scored to get one back for the Gators. 

Ole Miss replaced Dougherty with right-hander Mitch Murrell. The new arm walked Riopelle on five pitches to load the bases for Evans. The sophomore right fielder couldn’t drive the runs in, and Murrell escaped the jam.

Sproat forced a pair of ground outs, and he rebounded from a walk with an inning-ending strikeout. Florida’s bats failed to reward their pitcher and went down 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth.

The Gators’ ace gave up a leadoff double and struck out the next batter. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to replace Sproat after the punch out, and sophomore lefty Philip Abner came into the game.

Sproat pitched 5 1/3 innings, and he allowed five earned runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts.

Robertson tracked down a deep fly ball in center field, and Abner struck out Harris to end the sixth. Murrell kept the Gators off the board with another 1-2-3 inning.

Abner walked a batter and allowed a single after Halter’s throw was offline. Calarco flew out to center field, but a run scored and put the Rebels up by three with two innings left in the game.

Righty Mason Nichols replaced Murrell in the top of the eighth inning. Rivera tattooed a ball from Nichols into deep left field for a leadoff home run. Riopelle continued the rally with a single to left field.

A pair of infield pop outs put Florida down to two outs. Redshirt sophomore Matt Prevesk singled to the gap in right center field to keep the inning alive. Robertson walked and Kurland came to the plate. 

The freshman doubled to deep right-center field and cleared the bases to give the Gators a 7-6 advantage — their first lead since the top of the first. 

Abner stayed in for the eighth inning, and he struck out Ole Miss designated hitter Reagan Burford swinging to start the frame. Lege got a hold of a pitch and drove the ball to deep left-center field.

Robertson was all over it again. The redshirt freshman tracked the ball in the air and timed his jump to steal a would-be extra-base hit from the Rebels’ third baseman. O’Sullivan pulled Abner and brought in his closer: sophomore righty Brandon Neely. 

Neely forced a high infield pop up to Kurland to end the eighth.

Caglianone gave Florida needed insurance to start the ninth. The sophomore turned on the first pitch of the inning and crushed the ball off the batter’s eye for the second time in the game. Rivera and Riopelle followed the solo homer with consecutive walks.

Evans chopped an infield single to load the bases with no outs for Halter. His ground out scored Rivera and increased the Gators’ lead to three. Robertson walked again, and Kurland came back to the plate with the bags juiced.

Righty Cole Ketchum came to the mound for Ole Miss, and he forced a quick pop out to get out of the jam.

The Rebels rattled off back-to-back singles off Neely to start the final half-inning. The Gators’ closer recovered to strike out Alderman, but he hit Calarco to load the bases with just one out. Neely forced a ground out, but one run scored to cut the lead to two.

McCants came to the plate with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Neely saved his best for last and struck out the Ole Miss outfielder swinging to secure the win.

The Gators will face the Rebels again in the second game of the doubleheader Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game 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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