Florida junior right-handed pitcher Brandon Sproat jogged onto the diamond in the top of the ninth and looked to shut out the Crimson Tide.
The conversation between UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and Sproat was simple regarding whether the ace should return to the mound.
“I’m good,” Sproat said to O’Sullivan. “I’m just gonna go out there and give you all I got.”
He earned one out, then another and another.
Sproat’s teammates mobbed the ace after he achieved a complete game one-hitter. He overshadowed the dominant Alabama offense and helped pave the way for a low-scoring victory.
The No. 5 Florida Gators (17-3, 1-0 SEC) defeated the No. 24 Alabama Crimson Tide (16-3, 0-1 SEC) 3-0 Thursday evening to open Southeastern Conference play. In what was expected to be a back-and-forth offensive showdown, a pitching duel occurred.
Sproat pitched a clean first inning. He hit the first batter he faced but immediately forced a ground ball to junior shortstop Josh Rivera, who converted a double play. Sproat’s third batter struck out swinging and made way for the Gators’ offense to take charge.
Florida freshman center fielder Michael Robertson led off the game. He failed to reach first but worked a ten-pitch at-bat against Alabama sophomore starting pitcher Hagan Banks. Banks struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Sproat started his next inning with two quick outs but allowed back-to-back runners on with a single and a walk.
Crimson Tide senior left fielder Tommy Seidl pulled a hot shot to junior third baseman Colby Halter, who gracefully snagged the ball off one hop and jogged to third base for the final out of the inning.
Sproat continued his dominance throughout the next three frames. He earned four strikeouts and allowed one runner on in the sixth inning.
With two outs in the sixth and a runner on, momentum waned, but Sproat didn’t let up. He struck out Alabama junior right fielder Andrew Pinckney and expressively pumped his fists during his jog off the field.
Crimson Tide head coach Brad Bohannon pulled Banks with one out in the third inning to make way for junior left-handed pitcher Hunter Furtado. The junior picked up right where Banks left off and forced a lineout by sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone and a groundout by Rivera.
Furtado refused to allow a single runner on base. He made it all the way to the sixth inning before he got into any trouble.
Florida earned its first runner on base in four innings with the game still scoreless.
UF freshman second baseman Cade Kurland stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning with a man on first and was about to change the course of the game.
Kurland drove a ball to deep left field that cleared the fences for a two-run home run and put the Gators on top 2-0.
“It was surreal,” Kurland said. “This is everything we work for.”
Furtado worked himself into more trouble in the next inning and gave up a single to Josh Rivera. Rivera sprinted to second on a wild pitch and stole third base a few pitches later.
Florida sophomore right fielder Ty Evans hit a hard grounder to third base for the fielder’s choice run batted in to put the Gators up 3-0.
Sproat continued to deal on the mound. He threw a strikeout in the seventh and two more in the eighth to earn eleven on the day, which surpassed his career high in strikeouts.
O’Sullivan left Sproat in the ninth inning and looked for the ace to get the job done.
Sproat’s first batter grounded out to first base. He forced a groundout to first for the second out and another to second for the final out and win versus the top-ranked Crimson Tide offense.
O’Sullivan was ecstatic with Sproat’s performance Thursday evening.
“He was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said. “Tonight was just a special night for Brandon.”
The Gators will play game two of three versus Alabama at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Condron Ballpark. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.
Saturday’s game could be potentially moved to Friday, which would push a 6:30 p.m. start to earlier in the day. More updates regarding the weather should be announced Friday morning.
Contact Luke Adragna at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.
Luke Adragna is a second-year sports & media major and a writer for women’s tennis at the Alligator. In his free time, he obsesses over his kitten named Pete, updates his Letterboxd and spends way too much money on Lego.