The Gators trailed the Crimson Tide by three runs with two innings left in the game.
Alabama righty Cade Woods came into the game and shut the door on Florida. He mowed down Gators left and right and struck out the final seven UF batters of the game to help the Crimson Tide avoid the series sweep.
The No. 5 Florida Gators (18-4, 2-1 SEC) lost to the No. 24 Alabama Crimson Tide (17-4, 1-2 SEC) 6-3 in the final game of Florida’s Southeastern Conference series opener. UF split its doubleheader with Bama after the loss in Condron Ballpark Friday night.
UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was happy to win the series but felt like his team missed an opportunity in the second game of the doubleheader, he said.
“When you have an opportunity to win three games on a weekend, you just got to take advantage of it,” O’Sullivan said.
Junior right-handed pitcher Hurston Waldrep took the mound to start the second game for the Gators.
The Southern Mississippi transfer walked the first two batters he faced. Bama first baseman Drew Williamson brought one run home with a single to right field.
The Crimson Tide tacked on two more runs after one runner scored on a passed ball; right fielder Andrew Pinckney singled to bring Williamson home. Waldrep struck out the final batter to get out of the first with UF down 3-0.
Florida freshman second baseman Cade Kurland reached base on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the first. He advanced to second after a throwing error and then reached third on sophomore designated hitter Jac Caglianone’s ground out.
Junior shortstop Josh Rivera scored Kurland with a homer to left field for two runs batted in. The home run marked Rivera’s tenth of the season — a new career high. Senior catcher BT Riopelle struck out to end the first with the Gators trailing 3-2.
Waldrep continued to struggle early and gave up a solo homer to Bama left fielder Tommy Seidl, which put the Crimson Tide up 4-2. UF put two runners on in the bottom of the second but stranded them both.
Bama got one hit in the top of the third, but Waldrep shut the Crimson Tide down in the inning.
The Gators picked up a single and a walk in the bottom of the third, but sophomore right fielder Ty Evans grounded out to strand the runners and end the inning.
Waldrep allowed two runners on base in the top of the fourth. He managed to get out of the inning unscathed after the UF defense turned a 6-3 double play. Florida junior third baseman Colby Halter singled but was caught stealing to end the fourth inning.
Bama went down quietly in the fifth after Waldrep worked a quick 1-2-3 inning. He forced two groundouts and struck out the third hitter. The Gators drew one walk but hit into a double play before Caglianone grounded out to end the fifth inning.
Waldrep gave up a double and a walk in the top of the sixth. He worked his way out of the inning with two strikeouts and a groundout to strand the runners on base.
Junior righty Brandon Neely took over for Waldrep on the mound to start the seventh inning.
Waldrep pitched six innings and gave up three earned runs on seven hits. He also compiled seven strikeouts.
Florida’s starting ptichers didn’t play up to their expected levels Friday, Riopelle said. However, they competed when they needed to to stay in the ball game, he said.
“They kept us in the game,” Riopelle said. “That’s really all you can ask for.”
Neely surrendered a single but struck out the side to end the frame.
The Gators hit two singles and put runners on the corners in the seventh. Freshman center fielder Michael Robertson singled through the left side to bring one runner home.
Kurland struck out and Roberston was picked off in the same sequence to end the inning with Florida down 4-3 to the Crimson Tide.
Pinckney reached on an error to open the eighth inning. Center fielder Caden Rose brought him home and stretched Alabama’s lead to three with a two-RBI home run to left field. Neely struck out the final batter to end the inning with the Crimson Tide in front, 6-3.
Woods halted the Gators’ comeback attempt in the eighth. He struck out the side in order to make quick work of UF.
Neely gave up a lead-off single but retired the side in order to get out of the top of the ninth inning.
Woods ended Florida’s night in the bottom of the ninth and struck out the side in order to defeat UF. The right-handed pitcher struck out seven of the nine batters he got out.
O’Sullivan noted Bama’s pitching did a good job against Florida, he said. He encouraged his team to see the ball up in the zone, but Alabama’s pitching kept making them chase pitches.
“We kept chasing down and down and down, and then obviously the reliever they brought in was pretty darn good,” O’Sullivan said.
Riopelle thought there were things his team could’ve done better Friday after the loss, he said.
“We wish we could fix them but all we can do is move forward now,” Riopelle said.
The Gators will head to Tallahassee, Florida, to play against their in-state rival, the Florida State Seminoles for their next game Tuesday. The game will start at 7 p.m. and be broadcast on ACC Network.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.