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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida baseball secures fourth conference series win

Gators win first road series against Tennessee since 2018

Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford swings his bat during the Gators' 8-4 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford swings his bat during the Gators' 8-4 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

Florida junior left fielder Wyatt Langford came to the plate in the fourth inning against the Tennessee Volunteers April 7. 

The Trenton product hammered a leadoff homer into the bleachers. Sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone followed it with another hammer out of the park. The Gators’ back-to-back jacks helped secure a series win in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The No. 3 Florida Gators (27-6, 9-3 SEC) took two out of three against the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (22-10, 5-7 SEC) to win their fourth-straight series in Southeastern Conference play. UF won a series in Knoxville for the first time since 2018.

Florida scored 17 runs against one of the top-rated pitching staffs in the country. The Volunteers boast the second best earned run average in the nation with 2.8, but the Gators found enough offense to take the series.

“To our hitters’ credit, they're facing a really good pitching staff,” said UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan after Florida’s April 7 win. “Every guy they've run out there has a good arm.” 

Junior shortstop Josh Rivera led the offense with a handful of big moments. The Gators’ cleanup hitter went just 3-11 at the plate for the series, but he changed the game with his hits. 

Rivera blew the game open April 6. He crushed a three-run shot in the fifth inning to give UF a four-run lead that helped open the series with a win. The Avon Park native added a second homer April 7 to help the Gators get out to an early lead.

Rivera, Langford and Caglianone delivered big moments, but Florida received contributions from up and down the lineup. 

Sophomore outfielder Matt Prevesk batted in a career-high four runs April 7. Freshman second baseman Cade Kurland had his third multi-hit game in conference play April 6.

Florida’s pitching staff worked well to hold Tennessee to just four runs through the first two games. Junior righty Brandon Sproat started April 6, and he posted a strong outing. The Gators’ ace pitched 5 2/3 and allowed just one run with nine strikeouts.

UF’s bullpen posted a strong performance to see out the win. Sophomore lefty Philip Abner and sophomore righty Brandon Neely combined to throw 3 1/3 shutout innings to close out a victory.

“That's what you need to do on the road,” O’Sullivan said of his bullpen. “Philip was great again. Neely ran into a little bit of trouble but made some pitches when he needed to.”

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Junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep delivered one of his best performances as a Gator to help secure a series victory April 7. The Southern Mississippi transfer pitched seven innings, and he allowed just three runs on five hits with nine strikeouts.

“Hurston was incredibly good today,” O’Sullivan said. “This is what we've been waiting for with Sproat and Hurston to put together a couple of back-to-back really good starts.”

Freshman lefty Cade Fisher sealed the series with two shutout innings. He allowed just one hit and struck out five of the seven batters he faced.

Florida cruised in the first two games; they won by a combined 11 runs. The Gators had a chance to complete their second road sweep in SEC play, but the Volunteers crushed UF 14-2 April 8.

Caglianone started on the mound in the loss, and he struggled in a brief outing. The two-way lefty pitched just 2/3 of an inning. He walked six of the eight batters he faced and allowed three runs before O’Sullivan put redshirt sophomore Tyler Nesbitt in the game.

Nesbitt and four other Florida relievers combined to allow 11 more runs. Tennessee ended the game in the eighth inning with a walk-off three-run homer to trigger a run-rule defeat for the Gators.

“We just got off to a rough start today on the mound, and everybody we turned to after that had a tough time finding the strike zone,” O’Sullivan said. 

UF has now won all four of its series in conference play but is only 2-2 in the final game of each of its past four SEC series. Caglianone is the nominal third starter, but he’s been inconsistent on the hill. He has the fewest innings pitched but has walked the most batters.

Despite the inconsistent play, the loss to Tennessee is Caglianone’s first defeat as a starting pitcher this season.

“We need to figure out this third starter situation,” O’Sullivan said. “This is a long season, and the goal is to win the last game of the year. In order to do that, you have to have three starters.”

The Gators will start their week with a rivalry showdown against the Florida State Seminoles. Florida took the first game of the series March 21 and will have the opportunity to clinch a series victory on home soil April 11.

UF continues conference play on the weekend when it hosts the Georgia Bulldogs. The teams will play a three-game series starting April 14 and ending Sunday. First-pitch Friday is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Topher Adams at 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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