The Gators trailed the Crimson Tide 7-6 and were down to their last three outs.
Junior third baseman Colby Halter took the first pitch he saw and hit a solo home run over the left-field fence to tie the game to start the bottom of the ninth. Florida then had runners on the corners with one out as junior shortstop Josh Rivera stepped to the plate.
He hit a shallow single toward third base. Bama pitcher Riley Quick dove for the ball and heaved it to home plate, but the throw was too late, and UF center fielder Michael Robertson slid into home plate for the walk-off victory.
The No. 5 Florida Gators (18-3, 2-0 SEC) defeated the No. 24 Alabama Crimson Tide (16-4, 0-2 SEC) 8-7 in the first game of a doubleheader Friday in Condron Ballpark. The win clinched the series victory for UF to open Southeastern Conference play.
Sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone took the mound in game one of the doubleheader.
Caglianone found himself in trouble in the first inning. The lefty walked the first batter and allowed a single to the next. He struck out the third batter he faced but surrendered a three-run home run to Alabama first baseman Drew Williamson.
The three-run blast was the only damage in the top of the first after Caglianone got two outs following the hit.
The Gators responded with a three-run blast of their own in the bottom of the first. Freshman Cade Kurland was hit by a pitch, and Rivera singled to reach base.
Senior catcher BT Riopelle stepped to the plate and mashed his third homer of the season to tie the game at three. His hit went over the glove of the right fielder and landed in the right-field berm.
The Crimson Tide regained the lead in the top of the second. Caglianone allowed two Alabama hitters to reach base, and designated hitter Will Hodo singled to second base to bring one run home and put Bama up 4-3.
Caglianone worked a quick 1-2-3 inning after he surrendered four runs in his first two innings of work. Florida managed just one hit in the next two innings following its three-run homer in the first.
After back-to-back strikeouts, Caglianone forced a flyout for a second straight 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fourth.
Riopelle led off the bottom of the fourth with a double to right-center. UF stranded him at third after Williamson contorted his body and dove to catch an infield fly ball for the third out of the inning.
Hodo walked with one out in the top of the fifth. He reached second after a successful bunt from right fielder Andrew Pinckney. Williamson smacked a runs-batted-in double to right-center to extend the Crimson Tide lead to 5-3.
Florida opened the bottom of the fifth with two outs. Kurland came to the plate trying to keep the inning alive. He saw a pitch he liked and smashed a solo shot to right-center to bring the Gators within one after five innings.
UF sophomore righty Nick Ficarrotta relieved Caglianone, who moved to designated hitter, to start the sixth inning. Ficarrotta walked one batter but stranded the runner after he forced a flyout to left field.
Rivera started the bottom of the sixth inning with a home run to center field to tie the game 5-5 against the Crimson Tide. UF’s next three batters went down in order after the solo blast.
Ficarrotta struck out the first batter of the seventh inning but then gave up a single and a walk. Freshman lefty Cade Fisher came into the game and relieved Ficarrotta with runners on first and second base.
Williamson smacked a single to left field to score one run and put Bama in front 6-5 in the top of the seventh. FIsher’s day was done after he gave up a single to the only batter he faced.
UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Slater took over on the mound. He forced a lineout and groundout to end the top of the seventh with UF down 6-5.
Gators junior first baseman Tyler Shelnut curled a hit down into left field for a double to lead off the bottom of the seventh. He advanced to third after a sacrifice bunt from Halter.
Robertson singled to right field to score Shelnut and tie the game again at six apiece. Florida put two runners in scoring position, but Rivera struck out to end the inning.
Bama third baseman Colby Shelton fired back to start the eighth. He led off the inning and fired the ball over the right-field wall to put the Crimson Tide back in front, 7-6.
Alabama got a runner in scoring position, but sophomore lefty Philip Abner came into the game and forced a groundout to end the top of the eighth inning.
The Crimson Tide put two runners on, but Abner struck out Bama infielder Will Portera looking to get out of the top of the ninth.
Halter took the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth and smashed it over the left-field fence to tie the game 7-7. Robertson followed the homer with a single to center field, and then Kurland was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second.
Caglianone hit into a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners with one out. Rivera hit a shallow single to third base and the pitcher couldn’t throw it to home plate in time to get Robertson out as the Gators walked it off, 8-7.
Florida will play the final game of the series against Alabama at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Condron Ballpark. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.
Contact Jackson Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.
Jackson Reyes is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and tweeting about Caleb Williams.