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Monday, March 04, 2024

Early home runs lift No. 6 South Carolina over No. 3 Florida

Florida dropped first series of season

Florida pitcher Jac Caglianone swings hit bat during the Gators' 2-1 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.
Florida pitcher Jac Caglianone swings hit bat during the Gators' 2-1 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Two mistakes in the first two innings. 

That’s all South Carolina needed against Gators junior starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep. A two-run shot from sophomore first baseman Cole Messina in the first and a three-run bomb from freshman right fielder Ethan Petry in the second provided all five runs for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks’ pitching once again held the Gators’ bats in check in No. 6 South Carolina’s 5-2 win over the No. 3 Florida Gators Friday night at Founders Park in Columbia, South Carolina. 

The loss handed UF’s its first series defeat since being swept by the Tennessee Volunteers in Gainesville April 22-24, 2022.  

Waldrep rebounded well from South Carolina’s hot start, but his offense never came to life. Florida came up empty in multiple scoring opportunities throughout the night. The Gators left nine men on base and failed to score after the fifth inning. 

Sophomore designated hitter Jac Caglianone took South Carolina junior starting pitcher Jack Mahoney deep for his 23rd home run of the season with one out in the top of the first. Caglianone is now three longballs away from tying the Florida single-season record of 26. 

The Gators’ early lead didn’t last long. Messina stepped to the plate with a runner on first and demolished a Waldrep offering over the left-field wall for a two-run homer. 

Waldrep’s command continued to elude him in the second. He walked his second batter and hung a high breaking ball to Petry, who pummeled the mistake over left field for a three-run shot. Petry now has two homers in the series and 20 for the season. 

Waldrep bounced back in the third when he struck out the side. After Petry’s home run, Waldrep retired the next 10 batters he faced. 

Mahoney was just as good through his first four innings. He stranded two Gators in scoring position in the fourth inning and found himself in a similar tough spot in the fifth. Florida freshman center fielder Michael Robertson reached on a walk and later scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to three, 5-2. 

The Gators threatened later in the inning with junior left fielder Wyatt Langford on first and junior shortstop Josh Rivera on third. Mahoney induced a 6-4-3 double play from senior catcher BT Riopelle to keep the lead at three runs. 

Sophomore right hander Eli Jones took over for Mahoney in the top of the sixth. He allowed a leadoff single to freshman first baseman Luke Heyman but sent down the next three batters. 

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Waldrep’s streak of batters retired ended with a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth. Later in the inning, with two runners in scoring position, Waldrep braved through his climbing pitch count to escape trouble. He finished off the frame with his 10th strikeout of the game on his season-high 112th pitch. 

The Gators created another promising opportunity in the seventh with singles from Robertson and Caglianone. Jones silenced the Florida bats by forcing Rivera to fly out to right and pulling the string on Riopelle. 

Junior righty Clete Hartzog was the first arm out of the Gators’ bullpen. He tossed a scoreless seventh inning. Sophomore right-hander Blake Purnell worked a rocky eighth inning. He allowed two walks and loaded the bases on a catcher’s interference by Riopelle. A clutch strikeout and groundout to second ended the inning and kept the deficit at three runs headed into the ninth. 

Jones walked junior pinch hitter Dale Thomas to begin the ninth and was replaced by sophomore right-hander Chris Veach. Jones tossed three innings of superb relief; he allowed just three hits and no runs. 

Veach locked up the game by sending down the trio of Robertson, Langford and Caglianone in order. 

Florida wraps up the series Saturday afternoon. South Carolina will go for the sweep with Caglianone on the mound for the Gators. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. on ESPN2.

Contact Ethan Eibe at Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.

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Ethan Eibe

Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.

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