Sophomore second baseman Deric Fabian cranked his first home run of the season over the left-field berm to cap off an eight-run second inning for Florida. It then became clear that Florida A&M starting pitcher Jared Townsend had been hung out to dry.
The Gators (31-7, 11-4 SEC) jumped all over Townsend for 11 runs on 10 hits in UF’s 17-7 mercy-rule victory against the Florida A&M Rattlers (18-18, 12-3 SWAC) at Condron Ballpark Tuesday night.
Florida has won 11 straight games against FAMU and 11 consecutive non-conference games. The contest served as a tune-up for the Gators, who took the opportunity to give several bench players an opportunity to get game reps, including Fabian.
“These types of games are good for morale,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “There's those other guys that haven't had a chance to play as much they’d like and work awfully hard, and it was good to get those guys out there tonight.”
Mid-week starter Yoel Tejeda Jr. allowed two earned runs over his four innings of work. The 6-foot-8-inch freshman right-hander has pitched in six games this year and yielded 11 runs over 17.2 innings pitched.
“He's got a really good arm, O’Sullivan said. “Once he figures out the first pitch strikes, I think you'll start to see him take off.”
Tejeda Jr. allowed a runner to reach third in his opening frame thanks to a leadoff single and a two-base throwing error by freshman catcher Luke Heyman. He stranded the runner by recording a groundout and a strikeout.
Florida gave its starting pitcher some run support early. A walk and single put runners on the corners for sophomore designated hitter Jac Caglianone, who walloped a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home freshman center fielder Michael Robertson. Heyman stepped up two batters later and sent another sac fly to right, which brought in junior left fielder Wyatt Langford.
Junior first baseman Tyler Shelnut rounded out the first inning offense for the Gators with a run batted in double to right-center.
Florida’s 3-0 lead shrank to one in the top of the second following back-to-back home runs from Rattlers junior first baseman Sebastian Greico and junior third baseman Adam Haidermota.
Whatever momentum FAMU thought it possessed after its homers was sucked away in the bottom of the second when Florida hung an eight spot on the Rattlers. The Gators received three homers in the inning from Heyman, Fabian and Caglianone, whose three-run shot gave him 22 on the year.
Caglianone is on pace to break the Gators’ single-season home run record, which is shared by Langford and Matt LaPorta, who hit 26 homers each in 2022 and 2005, respectively. Langford did not hit his 20th home run until May 19 of last year. Caglianone is only four away from tying the record a full month ahead of that pace.
Fabian has not received much playing time this season but took advantage of the opportunity to launch his first longball of the season, a three-run bomb. He hit four last year in 46 games. This year has been tough, Fabian said, but he is focused on being the best teammate he can be.
“It's awesome, obviously,” Fabian said. “You put in all this work in the cages that really nobody sees, and just for that to pay off is really special.”
Tejeda returned to the mound with an 11-2 advantage. Over the next two innings, he shut Florida A&M down and tied his season-high in innings pitched.
Florida tacked on two more in the bottom of the third via a sac fly from Heyman and a fielding error on a ball put in play by Shelnut.
Working with a 13-2 lead, sophomores Fisher Jameson and Blake Purnell combined to pitch the fifth frame. The Rattlers put up four runs to give themselves a glimmer of hope. Three consecutive hits knocked Jameson out of the game.
Purnell entered and gave up a two-run triple to senior designated hitter Ty Hanchey and an RBI single to senior right fielder Janmikell Bastardo.
Florida earned one back in the bottom of the fifth when junior third baseman Dale Thomas grounded out to second base with the bags loaded.
The stubborn Rattlers went back to work against Purnell in the sixth. A single set up freshman second baseman Joseph Perini, who lined a double off the glove of UF sophomore right fielder Matt Prevesk to score a run. Prevesk’s throw to the plate was blocked by sophomore catcher Rene Lastres, who crumpled to the dirt with an injury after the ball hit him in the groin area.
He was removed from the game and replaced with Heyman, the game’s original catcher who moved to first base two innings prior.
The Gators loaded the bases against new FAMU pitcher Garrett Green in the bottom of the sixth. The junior left-hander yielded an infield single to Florida junior third baseman Colby Halter, who entered the game in the round of defensive changes following Lastres’ injury.
UF scored three more in the bottom of the sixth to put the game in run-rule territory.
Junior righty Clete Hartzog entered from the Florida bullpen; he retired the Rattlers in order to call it an early night for the Gators.
Florida travels to Columbia, South Carolina, for a three-game series with the No. 6 Gamecocks Thursday through Saturday. First pitch at Founders Park is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
Contact Ethan Eibe at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.
Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.