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Monday, May 27, 2024

Florida earns series-opening win over Tennessee

Josh Rivera’s three-run blast helps Gators to victory

Florida outfielder Michael Robertson runs toward third base during the Gators' 17-8 victory against the Auburn Tigers Sunday, April 2, 2023.
Florida outfielder Michael Robertson runs toward third base during the Gators' 17-8 victory against the Auburn Tigers Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Junior shortstop Josh Rivera came to the plate with an opportunity to blow the game open in the fifth inning. Junior left fielder Wyatt Langford and sophomore Jac Caglianone worked their way into scoring position and forced the Volunteers to pull ace pitcher Chase Dolander.

Reliever Seth Halvorsen replaced Tennessee’s ace, but he couldn’t stop Rivera. The Gators’ shortstop blasted a three-run shot over the opposite-field fence to give Florida a massive lead it never surrendered.

The No. 3 Florida Gators (26-5, 8-2 SEC) defeated the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (21-9, 4-6 SEC) 6-1 Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is the second time this season UF held a conference opponent to one or fewer runs.

Florida’s offense started slow against Dolander. The No. 2 prospect in the 2023 Major League Baseball draft struck out Langford — the No. 3 prospect — and forced two more quick outs to keep Florida off the board.

UF junior righty Brandon Sproat matched Dolander in the first. The Gators’ ace struck out three of the first four batters in the lineup to retire the side and end the inning.

Freshman second baseman Cade Kurland reached on an error in the second. Junior third baseman Colby Halter singled to put a pair on for sophomore right fielder Ty Evans. The sophomore flied out to center, but Kurland advanced to third.

Redshirt freshman Michael Robertson ripped the ball on the ground to shortstop. However, the speedy Robertson beat the throw to first base, which allowed Kurland to score and put Florida on the board first.

Langford walked to load the bases for Caglianone. Dolander battled back and forced a groundout to get out of the jam and end the frame.

Tennessee sophomore Blake Burke — who committed the error that allowed Kurland to score — atoned for his defensive mistake. Burke hammered a Sproat pitch deep into center field and out of the ballpark to tie the game at one.

Sproat rebounded from the long ball with a pair of strikeouts, and he forced a flyout to Robertson in center field to end the inning.

Dolander gave Florida’s offense nightmares in the third. He struck out the side in order, and all three Gators went down swinging. Volunteers shortstop Maui Ahuna hit a leadoff single to start the third, but Sproat and the Florida defense rallied to put a zero on the board in the inning.

Kurland flipped the game in the top of the fourth. The freshman blasted a fly ball over the opposite-field fence for a solo homer. Dolander rebounded with a flyout and two punch outs to limit the damage. Sproat struck out two more to force another scoreless frame to end the fourth.

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Langford walked to leadoff the fifth. Caglianone drilled a double down the right-field line to put a pair in scoring position for Rivera. Tennessee pulled Dolander for Halvorsen in an attempt to get out of the jam.

The effort didn’t work. Rivera blasted the ball into right field and over the fences for a game-changing three-run homer. 

Senior catcher BT Riopelle added to Halvorsen’s nightmare start. Riopelle hit a fly ball the opposite way to left field for a solo homer to give the Gators a 6-1 lead.

Vols outfielder Christian Scott walked to start the bottom of the fifth. Designated hitter Dylan Dreiling singled to left field to put a pair on. Sproat worked out of the jam and ended the inning with his ninth strikeout of the night.

Florida’s offense failed to extend the lead in the sixth, and Sproat returned to the mound. He retired a pair of Tennessee batters, but Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan replaced his ace after a walk and 108 pitches thrown.

Sproat pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run on four hits; he walked three batters and struck out nine. 

Sophomore southpaw Philip Abner came into the game looking to get Florida out of the inning. He hit the first batter he faced, and Caglianone committed an error diving to his right at first base to load the bases.

Abner struck out Ahuna swinging to get out of the jam and end the inning.

Caglianone singled to start the seventh inning, and lefty Kirby Connell replaced Halvorsen after Rivera flied out to right field. Connell struck out Riopelle and freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman to strand Caglianone and retire the side. 

Florida’s defense continued to keep the Volunteers at bay. Rivera scooped a casual ground ball and made the throw to first for an out. Abner struck out a pair of batters to cap off a 1-2-3 inning for the Gators.

Righty AJ Russell toed the rubber for Tennessee in the eighth. Kurland started the frame with a double to left field. The freshman advanced to third, but Russell worked out of the jam to keep Kurland stranded.

Burke doubled to start the bottom of the inning. Abner battled back after the leadoff double with a pair of strikeouts to post a scoreless frame and push to the final inning of action. The Gators failed to add any additional insurance in the ninth, and sophomore closer Brandon Neely came in to see out the final frame.

Neely got off to a rocky start. Scott singled, and Florida’s closer walked Ahuna to put a pair of runners on with no outs. Neely started to work out of the jam and struck out infielder Christian Moore looking to put the Vols on their final out.

Tennessee outfielder Jared Dickey walked to load the bases for Burke. Neely struck him out looking to get out the jam and secure a series-opening victory.

The Gators continue the series Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcasted 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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