Florida sophomore closer Brandon Neely returned the mound to see out a seven-out save and secure a sixth Southeastern Conference series victory.
The right-hander allowed a pair of baserunners, but redshirt freshman center fielder Michael Robertson made a leaping grab at the wall for one out. Neely struck out another to put the Tigers down to their final out of the day.
The Gators’ closer worked into a full count against catcher Tre Morris and forced a weak groundout to second to close out another UF victory.
The No. 4 Florida Gators (34-10, 13-7 SEC) defeated the Missouri Tigers (24-18, 5-15 SEC) 11-7 Saturday afternoon at Condron Ballpark. UF has scored 22 runs on 21 hits in the first two games against Mizzou.
“We showed a lot of resilience today,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It wasn’t real pretty, but at the end of the day, we showed a way to come back.”
The Tigers pounced on Florida junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep in the first inning. The Southern Mississippi transfer issued a four-pitch walk to the leadoff batter, and second baseman Trevor Austin smoked a ball deep over the left-field fence for an early two-run blast.
Waldrep seemed to get a feel for the game after he struck out a batter and caught a runner at first base, but the Tigers continued to test his control. Designated hitter Dalton Bargo worked a full count before Waldrep plunked him, and catcher Tre Morris singled to center field.
A wild pitch allowed the runners to advance to scoring position, but a weak ground ball to Gators junior shortstop Josh Rivera ended the inning. Waldrep limited the damage after a difficult start but tossed 31 pitches in the first frame of the game.
Missouri starter Javyn Pimental had no such trouble in the bottom of the first. The southpaw struck out the first two batters swinging before he forced a weak groundout to end a 1-2-3 inning.
Waldrep walked another hitter to start the second, but the junior starter settled in. Tigers shortstop Justin Colon popped up to first base, and right fielder Ross Lovich grounded into a double play to retire the side.
Florida’s starter got into a groove in the top of the third. Waldrep struck out Austin looking and forced a weak ground out on the first two at-bats. However, Mizzou’s offense struck again later in the frame.
First baseman Hank Zeisler ripped a single, and Bargo bashed the ball into the Gators’ bullpen for the Tigers’ second two-run shot of the ballgame.
Florida’s offense woke up in the bottom of the third. Pimental plunked junior third baseman Colby Halter, and junior right fielder Tyler Shelnut cracked a single past shortstop to open the frame.
The Tigers quickly turned to their bullpen and replaced Pimental with right-hander Rorik Maltrud to get out of the inning.
Robertson looked to lay down a bunt and advance the runners to scoring position. He made good contact and charged to first to beat the throw. Maltrud’s toss to first base flew over the defender’s head and allowed Halter to score.
Mizzou’s reliever walked freshman second baseman Cade Kurland on four pitches to load the bases for junior left fielder Wyatt Langford. The star outfielder brought in a run with a single to the right-center gap, and sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone hit a sacrifice fly to add another.
Rivera punched a single up the middle to bring Kurland home and tie the game at four. The Tigers had seen enough and replaced Maltrud with right-hander Zach Franklin to get out of the two on, one out jam.
The change paid dividends; Franklin struck out a pair of batters to end the inning.
Waldrep worked a scoreless fourth and retired the first two batters in the top of the fifth. Bargo drew a walk, and O’Sullivan pulled his starter with two outs in the frame. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Slater stepped on the mound to see out the inning.
Waldrep worked 4 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on six hits and four walks. He also struck out four batters. O’Sullivan said the team was alerted this week of a “discrepancy” in Waldrep’s delivery that needed to be adjusted to be legal.
“It’s frustrating — we’re 11 weeks in,” O’Sullivan said. ”If there's something with his delivery that we need to clean up, we could have done after week one, week two.”
Slater struck out Morris to post a zero in the fifth. Franklin — who worked a 1-2-3 fourth inning — dominated in the bottom of the fifth. He struck out Kurland, Langford and Caglianone swinging to post his second perfect inning in a row.
The Gators finally started to crack Franklin after Slater retired the Tigers in order in the top of the sixth. Rivera walked and comfortably swiped second. Riopelle also walked to put a pair of runners on for freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman.
Heyman squeaked a single to load the bases for Halter. The junior infielder popped a high fly ball to the outfield, and it was enough for Rivera to tag up and score from third. Shelnut singled to score Riopelle, which forced Mizzou to pull Franklin for righty Austin Troesser.
Robertson continued the rally with another successful bunt that allowed Heyman to score. The speedy outfielder reached base as the Tigers tried to make the play at the plate. Langford blew the game open with a single that drove in two more runs; UF took a 9-4 lead through six.
Zeisler kept Missouri close in the top of the seventh. The slugger launched a two-run bomb into left field to make it a three-run ballgame. Slater plunked Bargo, and Morris hit a ball to Shelnut in deep right field.
The Santa Fe College transfer misplayed the ball, and Bargo scored while Morris reached third. O’Sullivan replaced Slater with Neely to see out the frame. Florida’s closer struck out center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer looking to close the seventh.
The Gators needed insurance in the seventh. Shelnut made up for his defensive miscue with a big double to right field that scored a pair of runners and gave Florida an 11-7 lead. The junior has five hits and seven runs batted in against Mizzou this series.
“I knew that as soon as my turn came that I was going to be able to help the team,” Shelnut said.
Neely retired the Tigers in order in the top of the eighth to keep the four-run advantage. UF failed to add any additional runs and handed the ball back to Neely to close out the game.
The Gators’ closer got into trouble early in the inning but secured the seven-out save and helped Florida clinch a series win.
Florida will look to close out the Tigers Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for noon, and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network.
Contact Topher Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @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.