Brandon Sproat glanced toward the Gators dugout as his head coach, Kevin O’Sullivan, emerged from the top step.
He had become accustomed to seeing his skipper remove him from the game in the later innings or not at all. After he was rocked for six runs through just one and a third innings Friday night against the Auburn Tigers, he had no choice but to surrender the ball.
In its first visit to Gainesville since the 2018 NCAA Super Regional, Auburn (18-7, 3-4 SEC) crushed the No. 3 Florida Gators (22-5, 5-2 SEC) 10-1 at Condron Ballpark to open a weekend Southeastern Conference series.
Sproat gave up eight earned runs, six of which came across in a disastrous second inning that UF never recovered from.
“[Auburn] had a good approach against Brandon,” O’Sullivan said. “They played really well tonight.”
“In the beginning of the year, we were concerned about our ‘pen, and that’s kind of come together,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got to figure out a little bit more consistency with our starters.”
Auburn quickly found its way on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning.
Sproat yielded an infield single to senior left fielder Bobby Peirce. Freshman designated hitter Ike Irish stepped to the plate next and slashed an opposite field home run to the left field berm to put Auburn ahead 2-0.
The Gators came up empty in the bottom half of the first against Auburn sophomore starting pitcher Will Cannon. Sophomore first baseman Jac Caglianone recorded an infield single but was stranded when junior shortstop Josh Rivera flied out to center field to end the inning.
Sproat’s command was nowhere to be found in the second. The right-hander loaded the bases on a walk, hit by pitch and single. Following a mound visit from O’Sullivan, he allowed two more walks to force home a pair of runs.
Sproat struck out Peirce looking for the first out. He then surrendered a two runs batted in ground-rule double to Irish. The ball one-hopped over the right field wall and onto the berm.
Down 6-0 in just the second inning, O’Sullivan decided he had seen enough from his Friday ace. He brought in sophomore righty Tyler Nesbitt in an attempt to limit the damage.
Nesbitt allowed two more runs on a groundout to third base and a single to center field. When it was all said and done, all eight earned runs were charged to Sproat. Nesbitt struck out sophomore first baseman Cooper McMurray to bring the nightmare frame to a close.
This is the second consecutive start where Sproat has looked shaky since tossing a complete-game shutout against the Alabama Crimson Tide March 16. Sproat allowed five earned runs in 5.1 innings at Ole Miss last Saturday.
Senior catcher BT Riopelle said he hasn’t noticed anything off with Sproat in his last two starts but noted Sproat can return to form after enduring his struggles.
“I think you have to be in a place like that before to know how to navigate it,” Riopelle said. “Any success comes with some adverse situations…and he's been there before.”
Cannon rebounded from a leadoff walk to Riopelle to retire the Gators in order. He struck out freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman and recorded a pair of flyouts to keep UF off the board in the second inning.
Nesbitt delivered a much-needed 1-2-3 third inning as the Gators looked to get back on track. Florida was unable to cash in on the newfound momentum.
A leadoff double by freshman center fielder Michael Robertson and a walk to junior left fielder Wyatt Langford brought Rivera to the plate. Rivera smashed a 2-1 pitch to right-center field. Tigers center fielder Kason Howell leaped toward the wall and stole a would-be three-run homer.
Nesbitt continued the groove he established in the third inning with a clean fourth. He recorded three groundball outs to keep Auburn from extending its lead.
The Gators got a run back in the bottom of the fourth inning thanks to the speed of their lineup.
Riopelle legged out a leadoff double on a ball ripped to right field. He scored from third a few batters later when Robertson hit a slow tapper to the second baseman. Robertson barely beat out the throw to first, which allowed Riopelle to cross home and cut the Auburn lead to 8-1.
UF loaded the bags for Langford, who struck out looking to end what looked to be a promising inning.
Auburn threatened to score once again in the fifth. A pair of one-out singles ended Nesbitt’s streak of eight straight batters retired and placed baserunners on first and second. The right-hander buckled down and recorded back-to-back flyouts to center field to eliminate the threat.
Caglianone led off the fifth inning with a base hit back up the middle. This ended the day for Cannon, who was replaced by junior left-hander Tanner Bauman.
Bauman needed just eight pitches to get through the fifth. He eliminated Caglianone on a Rivera double play ball to second base. He then induced a groundout to shortstop from Riopelle to end the frame.
Nesbitt’s night ended after 3.2 innings off long-relief. O’Sullivan credited Nesbitt for helping to preserve his bullpen arms for the rest of the series.
Sophomore righty Blake Purnell took over on the mound for UF to begin the sixth inning. He sent down the Tigers in order to keep the deficit at seven runs. The Gators failed to score again in the bottom of the inning. Purnell returned for the seventh and allowed two runners to reach base.
He allowed one to score on an RBI single to right field from Howell. This extended the Tigers’ lead to 9-1.
UF remained hopeless against Bauman in the seventh inning despite sending the top of the order to the plate. The Gators put a runner on via a Langford walk but were unable to bring him around.
Sophomore righty Fisher Jameson was the next arm out of Florida’s bullpen. He allowed a two-out triple to Peirce but put up a zero in the eighth inning.
Bauman allowed a pair of two-out runners to reach on a hit by pitch and walk in the home half of the eighth. The Gators came up empty when Robertson struck out swinging to strand them both.
Already ahead by eight, the Tigers added on an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning thanks to senior third baseman Bryson Ware’s 13th home run of the season. He jumped all over a Jameson fastball and sailed it beyond the left field berm.
UF put runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth. The rally ended almost as quickly as it began when pinch hitter Deric Fabian lined into a 4-6 double play to end the ballgame with senior right-hander Chase Isbell on the mound.
The Gators and Tigers rematch Saturday night at Condron Ballpark for the second game of the series. Right-hander Hurston Waldrep will get the ball for the Gators. He will be opposed by Auburn’s John Armstrong.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network+.
Contact Ethan Eibe at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.