Florida Gators catcher BT Riopelle stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning with no outs, two on base and the Gators trailing by two runs to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
‘Bama freshman closer Alton Davis II — who entered the game with a runner on and no outs — struggled with his command in the first two batters faced.
The lefty gave up a string of singles to UF two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone and junior shortstop Josh Rivera, which allowed a run to cross the plate.
That’s when Riopelle etched his name into the scorecard.
On an 0-2 count, Davis delivered a 96 mph fastball to the top of the zone. Riopelle honed in on the pitch and clobbered the ball to deep center field for a walk-off three-run home run.
The entire UF team mobbed the catcher as he tossed his helmet into the air and accelerated into home plate.
The No. 1 seed Florida Gators (43-13, 20-10 SEC) defeated the No. 9 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (39-18, 16-14 SEC) 7-6 in the Gators’ Southeastern Conference tournament opener Wednesday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. Florida trailed 6-3 in the 11th inning before Riopelle hit the game-deciding blast.
The Gators opened the contest with two runs in the first inning. Alabama sophomore starting pitcher Luke Holman struck out his first two batters — UF freshman infielder Cade Kurland and junior outfielder Wyatt Langford — but things quickly got out of hand for the righty.
Caglianone singled through the right side and cleared the way for Rivera to deal the brunt of the offensive damage. The junior battled through an extensive at-bat against Holman and came out on top when the righty misplaced an offspeed pitch over the heart of the plate.
Rivera pulled the ball 392 feet down the left field line and well over the wall. The Gators led 2-0 but Alabama slowly chipped away at the lead as Florida struggled to produce any additional runs.
Waldrep cruised through the outing and pitched three consecutive 1-2-3 innings and nearly added another when he retired the first two batters of the fourth. He tossed a strikeout and forced a pop-out before surrendering a single to Crimson Tide graduate student first baseman Drew Williamson.
Alabama cut into Florida’s lead with a two-out knock by freshman infielder Colby Shelton. The freshman hit a single over the left-side and slimmed the Gators lead to one.
The Crimson Tide evened it in the fifth inning off a sacrifice fly from Alabama senior shortstop Jim Jarvis. The shortstop lined a shot to right field, which allowed infield graduate student Ed Johnson to score.
Meanwhile, Florida’s offense was unable to get off the ground. Holman remained in the game and worked three consecutive innings without allowing any trouble on the basepaths.
In the bottom of the fifth, junior infielder Dale Thomas led-off the inning with a single to left-center field. The junior was followed by freshman outfielder Michael Robertson who attempted to advance Thomas to second with a bunt.
Robertson’s bunt attempt popped back to the pitcher, nearly causing a double play. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan jawed at Robertson in the dugout.
The inning ended when Thomas was called out on a stolen base attempt due to an interference at home plate. Kurland struck out, and in the backend of his swing, Alabama junior catcher Mac Guscette grazed the arms of Kurland and fired a throw that beamed directly into his pitcher’s back. The umpires ruled it was enough contact to misdirect the throw of Guscette, causing the interference to be called.
The Tide continued their run with a solo-shot deep to right field. Shelton drove a laser that screamed off his bat and cleared the right field wall. Alabama overcame its early deficit and took a 3-2 lead.
Florida rebounded from its deficit when Robertson stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. The freshman was preceded by Thomas — who earned a leadoff walk — and given another bunt sign by the Gators’ third base coach.
This time, Robertson made the most of his opportunity.
The freshman blooped a ball that immediately died in front of first base. It forced Alabama sophomore reliever Aiden Moza to cover ground and instantaneously come up firing a throw to first.
The throw flew past the outstretched arms of Williamson and rolled down the right field line. Thomas rounded the bases and slid into home to tie the game at three runs apiece.
Each team continued to stifle one another’s offenses, and the contest entered extra innings after neither side was able to score.
Florida sophomore closer Brandon Neelyentered the contest in the ninth frame and worked two scoreless innings until the top of the 11th.
The sophomore gave up a leadoff single, and the dominos began to topple. Johnson followed with another single which put men on the corners with no outs.
It looked as if the game was about to fall apart for Florida when Guscette laid down a bunt down the first baseline.
Caglianone charged the ball and flipped it to Riopelle at home plate in an attempt to get the lead runner out. The runner didn’t budge, and the Gators catcher fired a ball back to first base which beamed the back of Guscette.
Guscette sprinted down the first-base path on the infield grass when the ball hit him. The home plate umpire called interference and signaled a dead ball; both runners were gestured to return back to their original bases.
Neely recorded a strikeout and needed one more out to get out of the jam. His next batter, Jarvis, was intentionally walked, and the bases were loaded with two outs when Alabama senior outfielder Tommy Seidl approached home plate.
Seidl blasted a double over the head of Florida junior right fielder Tyler Shelnut. He cleared the bases, and Alabama led 6-3.
UF got out of the inning when O’Sullivan pulled Neely for freshman reliever Cade Fisher. The Gators entered the bottom of the 11th needing a miracle.
Moza surrendered a leadoff single to Langford, and the Crimson Tide made a call to the bullpen for Davis to close out the game. The freshman forfeited back-to-back singles, which set up Riopelle to close out the game.
The Florida catcher hit a three-run moonshot and walked off the 11-inning contest, 7-6.
Florida’s tournament run continues Thursday against the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores at approximately 8:30 p.m. The game will broadcast on the SEC Network.
Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.