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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Volunteers rout Gators in mercy-rule victory to avoid sweep

Florida pitching allowed season-high 18 walks

Florida pitcher Jac Caglianone stands near the mound during the Gators' 17-8 victory over the Auburn Tigers Sunday, April 2, 2023.
Florida pitcher Jac Caglianone stands near the mound during the Gators' 17-8 victory over the Auburn Tigers Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Jac Caglianone turned to face the dugout after allowing his sixth walk in the top of the first inning and knew his pitching outing was over.

A day after showcasing his light tower power at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, the sophomore failed to prove his prowess on the mound. The No. 3 Florida Gators (27-6, 9-3 SEC) were unable to recover from Caglianone’s rough start in a 14-3 mercy-rule loss to the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (22-10, 5-7 SEC) Saturday afternoon.

The Gators blew their chance to secure their first series sweep in Knoxville since 1992 due to the staff’s lack of command. Florida’s 18 walks represent a season-high and gave Tennessee plenty of opportunities to drive runs in. 

Volunteers graduate designated hitter Griffin Merritt led the way with six runs batted in and knocked two home runs, including the game-winning homer.

Tennessee needed a strong start to the game after allowing nine runs Friday night. Volunteers sophomore starting pitcher Drew Beam delivered by shutting down the Gators across seven innings. He struck out 10 batters and allowed just two earned runs on four hits. 

He allowed a two-out single to junior shortstop Josh Rivera in the top of the first but stranded him on first base. 

After walking a combined 11 batters through his last two starts, Caglianone again struggled to limit free passes and didn’t survive the first inning. He walked the first four batters to open the game and, at one point, threw 15 consecutive balls. Three runs crossed the plate for the Vols, and Caglianone was replaced by sophomore righty Tyler Nesbitt following his sixth walk.

Nesbitt finished the first inning and hung a zero on the scoreboard in the second. 

He wasn’t as fortunate in the third. Merritt doubled and later scored on a fielding error by UF freshman second baseman Cade Kurland. One batter later, Nesbitt hung a first-pitch breaking ball to junior catcher Cal Stark, who sent the ball to the tents beyond the left-field wall. 

Working with a 6-0 advantage, Beam continued to stifle the Gators’ offense. He allowed just one batter to reach base and struck out four across the second, third and fourth innings.

Merritt attacked another Nesbitt offering in the fourth and crushed it to left for a two-run homer. His eighth homer of the season extended the Vols’ lead to 8-0. Sophomore right-hander Nick Ficarrotta relieved Nesbitt and recorded the final out of the fourth. 

Florida registered its first hit against Beam since the first when junior third baseman Colby Halter doubled to right field with one out in the fifth. Beam stranded Halter at second by striking out sophomore right fielder Ty Evans and freshman center fielder Michael Robertson to end the inning. 

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The walk bug bit the Gators again in the sixth inning. 

Freshman righty Chris Arroyo took over after Ficarrotta’s clean fifth inning. He walked the first two batters he faced and was quickly swapped out for sophomore right-hander Fisher Jameson. UF’s fourth reliever of the game walked two more and forced home Tennessee’s ninth unanswered run. 

Jameson induced a flyout to center field from sophomore left fielder Jared Dickey to leave the bases full of Volunteers. 

Florida ended the shutout in the top of the seventh thanks to freshman catcher Luke Heyman’s fifth longball of the season. His two-run shot off Beam cut into the Vols’ lead, 9-2. 

Jameson still couldn’t find his command in the eighth inning. He allowed the first two batters to reach on walks before he was replaced by sophomore righty Blake Purnell. 

Purnell didn’t fare much better. He surrendered an infield single with the bases loaded to bring around UT’s 10th run. He walked senior second baseman Christian Scott to extend the deficit to 11-2. 

The final nail in the coffin arrived in the bottom of the eighth when Merritt took Purnell deep to left for his second home run of the game. His three-run shot ended the ballgame and gave UF its first loss via mercy-rule this season. 

Florida hosts in-state rival Florida State Tuesday night at Condron Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. on SEC Network+.

Contact Ethan Eibe at eeibe@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @EthanEibe.

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Ethan Eibe

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.


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