Florida junior pitcher Hurston Waldrep stood on the mound. The Southern Mississippi transfer was more than 100 pitches into the game and walked his second batter of the sixth inning. Senior catcher BT Riopelle came to the hill to talk to his pitcher.
Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to let his starter see out the frame, and Waldrep rewarded that decision. The righty fanned his 10th batter of the night to close out a quality start that helped Florida to a victory.
The No. 3 Florida Gators (23-5, 6-2 SEC) defeated the Auburn Tigers (18-8-1, 3-5 SEC) 12-5 Saturday night at Condron Ballpark. UF set a new season-high with 19 hits.
O’Sullivan won his 650th career game, but the Gators’ coach said he was more focused on his team’s ability to bounce back from a 10-1 loss Friday.
“You have different milestones that come through, but they kind of come and go,” O’Sullivan said. “The most important thing … for us to see how we responded from last night.”
Junior righty Hurston Waldrep made his third Southeastern Conference start Saturday. The Southern Mississippi transfer struggled from the first pitch. Auburn shortstop Cole Foster smoked a leadoff single into right field, and left fielder Bobby Peirce walked.
A wild pitch from Waldrep allowed both runners to move into scoring position for designated hitter Ike Irish. The freshman slugger chopped a ground ball to second base, and Foster scored on a fielder’s choice.
Waldrep rebounded from the early struggles to strike out a pair of Tigers batters and end the frame.
Sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone continued his monstrous second season for the Gators. The Tampa product crushed the ball into the Florida bullpen for a go-ahead two-run homer.
Auburn continued to rattle Waldrep in the second. First baseman Cooper McMurray ripped a leadoff double in deep right field.
“It’s obvious the past couple of weeks for me it’s been a struggle early on,” Waldrep said. “[O’Sullivan] trusts me to get through the inning, and I trusted myself to get through the inning.”
Florida’s defense gave its pitcher a needed boost on the next at-bat.
Center fielder Kason Howell drilled a line drive to junior shortstop Josh Rivera. The Gators’ infielder snagged the ball and launched it to freshman second baseman Cade Kurland at second base to catch McMurray out. Waldrep forced a ground out to get out of the inning.
Florida’s pitcher walked Foster to open the third after a scoreless half-inning from the Gators. Peirce punished Waldrep’s shaky control, and the senior outfielder blasted a two-run homer into the right-field berm to retake the lead.
Irish walked, and O’Sullivan visited his pitcher on the mound to settle him down. Florida turned a quick 4-6-3 double play, and Waldrep secured a ground ball and sent it to Caglianone at first base to end the half-inning.
Junior designated hitter Tyler Shelnut had a golden opportunity to put the Gators on top in the third inning. Langford reached on an error, Rivera singled and senior catcher BT Riopelle was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
The Santa Fe College transfer took advantage of his opportunity, and he singled to right field to score Langford and Rivera. Junior third baseman Colby Halter continued the rally with a double down the left field line to send Riopelle home.
The Tigers pulled starting pitcher John Armstrong for Christian Herberholz with one out in the third and a pair of runners in scoring position. Florida redshirt sophomore right fielder Matt Prevesk — who started ahead of sophomore Ty Evans — scored Shelnut with a fielder’s choice.
Redshirt freshman Michael Robertson singled up the middle to send Halter home and give the Gators a 7-3 lead after three innings.
Waldrep walked McMurray to start the fourth, but Florida’s righty recovered to retire three straight Auburn batters. He forced a foul out then struck out a pair of Tigers to close the frame.
The Gators’ bats couldn’t capitalize in the bottom of the fourth. Caglianone and Rivera reached, but Riopelle struck out swinging to strand both and end the inning.
There were no early struggles for Waldrep in the fifth. The No. 10 overall prospect in the 2023 Major League Baseball draft, according to MLB.com, struck out the side for a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Halter and Prevesk singled to put runners on the corners for Robertson. Auburn pulled Herberholz for lefty Zach Crotchfelt. Robertson’s bunt attempt popped up to the third baseman, and Kurland flew out to shallow right to end the inning.
Waldrep returned to the rubber for the sixth inning. He fanned another Tigers hitter — his sixth-straight punch out — to start the frame. Waldrep walked right fielder Justin Kirby but struck out another Auburn batter.
Howell walked to put two Tigers on base. Riopelle visited Waldrep on the mound, and the Gators opted to let their starter see out the sixth. He rewarded his coaching staff’s faith and struck out Auburn catcher Nate LaRue swinging to end the inning.
Waldrep finished with 10 strikeouts in six innings of action. He allowed three earned runs on four hits and six walks. UF’s pitcher did a better job of relaxing and trusting his ability down the stretch to see out a quality start despite a shaky finish, he said.
Langford walked and Rivera singled to start the sixth for Florida. Riopelle dropped another single, and Langford beat the throw home to score a run and give the Gators an 8-3 lead after six.
Sophomore righty Nick Ficarrotta replaced Waldrep in the seventh. He struck out the first batter but quickly got into trouble. Ficarrotta gave up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with one out.
Auburn third baseman Bryson Ware ripped another single and scored a pair of runs. O’Sullivan brought in sophomore righty Brandon Neely to see out the seventh.
“I just want to get into a situation at some point during the season that we don’t have to go to him in the seventh inning,” O’Sullivan said.
The Gators’ closer struck out Kirby but walked McMurray. Neely secured a weak ground out and made the play to end the inning without any additional damage.
Caglianone came to the plate looking to drive in some insurance runs for the struggling bullpen. The sophomore two-way star nearly hammered his second long ball of the night, but the ball just hit off the wall for a triple that sent Robertson and Langford home.
Rivera dropped his third single of the night into the outfield to score Caglianone and give Florida an 11-5 lead.
Neely returned to the mound in the eighth. The sophomore forced three flyouts for a 1-2-3 inning.
Evans — who came in for Prevesk in the seventh — scored Halter with a single in the bottom of the eighth.
“He didn’t hang his head,” O’Sullivan said. “When the game comes back to you like it did for him tonight, you have a better chance of being successful.”
The Gators failed to add further to the big lead in the eighth, and Neely returned to the mound to see out the game.
Peirce hit a leadoff single to start the final frame of action. Neely rebounded with a pair of strikeouts. Auburn put in outfielder Chris Stanfield to pinch hit on its final out. The freshman hit a ground ball to Rivera, but the junior’s throw to Caglianone at first was late.
McMurray hit a weak drive to Halter at third, and he made the routine play to close out Florida’s victory.
The Gators will close out their series against Auburn Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.
Contact Topher Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. He also covered Florida football lacrosse for the paper and loves to follow MLS soccer and professional lacrosse.