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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Gators’ bullpen implodes in run-rule loss to Gamecocks

Florida relievers allow 10 runs in two innings in run-rule defeat

Florida shortstop Josh Rivera throws the ball during the Gators' 2-1 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.
Florida shortstop Josh Rivera throws the ball during the Gators' 2-1 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Florida sophomore lefty Philip Abner came into the game with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth inning. All the Gators needed from one of their top relievers was an out to keep the game tied into the final three innings.

An inning later, the game was over.

Abner walked three-straight batters to give South Carolina the lead, and redshirt sophomores Nick Ficarrotta and Tyler Nesbitt allowed nine more runs through the six and into the seventh inning before the Gamecocks walked it off with a two-run double to trigger the 10-run mercy rule.

The No. 3 Florida Gators (31-8, 11-5 SEC) lost 13-3 to the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks (32-6, 11-4 SEC) in Columbia, South Carolina, Thursday night. UF’s bullpen allowed 10 runs and forced just three outs to give the Gamecocks a mercy-rule win.

Before the bullpen’s collapse, Florida starter Brandon Sproat delivered a strong outing on the mound. The right–hander dealt 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits. He also walked three and struck out eight. 

Florida’s offense put South Carolina righty Will Sanders in trouble in the top of the first. Junior left fielder Wyatt Langford walked, and junior shortstop Josh Rivera ripped a single to put runners on the corners.

Freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman came to the plate with bases loaded after senior catcher BT Riopelle walked. Heyman hit a sacrifice fly to score Langford, and freshman second baseman Cade Kurland struck out swinging to strand a pair of Gators.

The Gamecocks answered in the bottom of the frame. Freshman outfielder Ethan Petry — who ranks fourth in the nation in home runs — turned on the first pitch he saw for a monstrous solo home run.

Sproat responded with a strikeout to end the inning without any additional damage.

Petry tormented the Gators with his defense in the second inning. Florida sophomore right fielder Ty Evans hit the ball into the outfield, but a diving Petry laid out for the catch to steal a hit. Redshirt freshman Michael Robertson reached on an error and stole second to get into scoring position.

Langford appeared to ground into a routine out, but an offline throw led to a big collision with South Carolina first baseman Gavin Casas. The hit disrupted the play, and Langford reached base while Robertson scored from second. 

Casas stayed in the game after the hit and walked to leadoff the bottom of the second. Third baseman Michael Braswell doubled to deep right-center field to put a pair of runners in scoring position with no outs. Outfielder Carson Hornung tied the game with a groundout that scored Casas from third. 

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Sanders hit Kurland with a pitch in the top of the fourth after nobody got on base in the third inning. Evans walked, but the Gamecocks forced a double play to get out of the frame unscathed.

South Carolina loaded the bases with a single and a pair of walks. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan visited Sproat on the mound to help his pitcher through the jam.

Outfielder Evan Stone ripped a high fly ball to Robertson in center field, but the out allowed a runner to score from third and gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the night. Sproat forced a foul out to third base to limit the damage to just one run.

Sanders and Sproat worked impressive fifth innings. Sanders struck out a pair and worked his second 1-2-3 inning of the night. The Gators’ ace matched with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, and Sproat struck out all three batters swinging.

The Gamecocks’ star pitcher nearly worked another 1-2-3 frame, but Kurland squeaked a grounder down the third-base line and doubled. Junior third baseman Colby Halter smoked another grounder — this time down the first-base line — to score Kurland; Halter reached third for his fourth triple of the season.

Sproat also nearly finished another 1-2-3 inning, but Braswell doubled after Halter thought a chopper to third was foul. O’Sullivan brought in Abner for Sproat with two outs in the fifth. 

Abner walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases for second baseman Will Tippett. The Gators’ reliever still couldn’t find his control and walked Tippett to give South Carolina a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth.

O’Sullivan pulled Abner after the third walk and brought in Ficarrotta to get out of the inning. Ficarrotta also struggled with his command and walked in another run. The redshirt sophomore nearly got out of the inning after working into a full count, but infielder Braylen Wimmer walked to score another run.

Petry ended the string of walks with a single to score two more South Carolina runs. A groundout ended a disastrous inning for Florida, but the Gators trailed 8-3 after conceding five runs with two outs in the sixth.

Nesbitt replaced Ficarotta after Florida’s offense failed to chip into the deficit in the top of the seventh. He also struggled to find the strike zone early; Nesbitt walked the first batter he saw. 

Braswell hammered his third double of the night to score Casas and extend the hosts’ lead to six. Nesbitt’s nightmare appearance continued when he hit a batter. The reliever then committed a throwing error on a ground ball to let two more Gamecocks score.

Nesbitt seemed to settle in with a strikeout, but he hit another hitter to put a pair on for Petry with two outs. The star freshman drilled a grounder to Halter at third, but the Gators’ third baseman couldn’t find his feet to make the throw, and South Carolina loaded the bases again.

Catcher Cole Messina crunched a big double into center field, and two runs scored for the Gamecocks. The double triggered the 10-run mercy rule and ended the game with a South Carolina victory.

The Gators will look to even the series Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Topher Adams at tadams@alligator.org. 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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