Florida junior outfielder Wyatt Langford dug in at the plate after sending a ball foul in the bottom of the fifth. In front of him is a tie ballgame, loaded bases and a chance to help the Gators take the lead in a game with major regional tournament implications.
He squared up on the 0-1 pitch, and this time, it stayed fair. Langford plated two runners to put UF back in front on the way to claim the series and the victory against Vanderbilt.
No. 7 Florida (39-12, 17-9 SEC) defeated No. 5 Vanderbilt (35-14, 17-9 SEC) 6-2 Saturday to take the series at home. The Gators’ pitching staff combined for 11 strikeouts while allowing just two runs from the Commodores.
“Our bullpen picked us up today,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We turned what was a tough situation into a positive one.”
Florida junior right-handed pitcher Hurston Waldrep got the start on the mound. Following two outings with a combined 4.91 ERA and issues with his delivery, the weekend ace came out to a comfortable 1-2-3 inning and two strikeouts in the opening frame.
Rain began to fall at Condron Family Ballpark during the first inning. Gators freshman Cade Kurland stepped to the plate for the bottom of the first and worked a full count before the rain started to pour and the umpires signaled for a rain delay.
After over an hour of delay, both teams returned to the field.
Vanderbilt starting pitcher Devin Futrell reemerged from the bullpen and retired the side in order to close the inning.
Following the lengthy delay due to weather and Florida’s first frame at the plate, Waldrep would not return to the mound after his opening inning. Replacing him to open the second inning was UF sophomore right-handed reliever Ryan Slater.
Slater produced a 1-2-3 inning in just eight pitches to close the top of the second.
Gators junior shortstop Josh Rivera — who missed Friday’s contest — got Florida’s first knock of the evening on a single through the right infield. UF was unable to plate Rivera and ended the second inning with the game still scoreless.
In the bottom of the third, Slater sat the Vanderbilt side in order for the third-straight inning and picked up his second strikeout in as many innings.
After the Gators opened up their third frame with two quick outs, Kurland approached the batter’s box for the second time of the night. He took two pitches before squaring up on the 1-1 offering and sent it deep past the left field wall to put Florida up 1-0.
“I was sitting fastball, he hung that slider up and I took a swing,” Kurland said.
Slater notched his third consecutive inning-opening strikeout to start the fourth. He then let up two walks before escaping the jam with his fourth strikeout of the ballgame.
Florida fifth-year catcher BT Riopelle worked a two-out walk to put a runner on in the bottom of the fourth. He was stranded on the basepaths to keep UF’s lead at just one run.
The Commodores began to make some noise in the fifth inning after a quiet start.
Vanderbilt second baseman RJ Austin sent a ball into the visiting bullpen to tie the game at 1-1. Shortstop Jonathan Vastine followed it up with a double and advanced to third on a groundout.
Slater snagged the last two outs and his fifth strikeout of the evening under pressure to escape the inning with a tie ballgame.
The Gators wasted no time getting the run back.
Freshman Luke Heyman led off the bottom of the fifth with a single. Sophomore infielder Deric Fabian followed suit with a bunt single that advanced Heyman into scoring position. Redshirt freshman Michael Robertson advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt of his own, turning over UF’s batting order with just one out.
Kurland was plunked to load the bases, bringing up Gators junior outfielder Wyatt Langford to the plate. Langford doubled down the left field line to score two runs and give Florida a 3-1 lead.
UF added two more on a sacrifice fly from sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone and an RBI single from Rivera. Florida led 5-1 through five innings.
Gators sophomore left-handed reliever Philip Abner took over on the mound for Slater to start the sixth inning. He gave up a pair of singles before striking out the final batter to close the frame.
Florida kept things rolling in the bottom of the inning. Fabian reached first on a line drive up the middle before Kurland brought him home on an RBI single to make it a 6-1 UF lead after six innings.
Abner punched out the side 1-2-3 to ease the Gators through the top of the seventh. Florida went scoreless in the bottom frame despite another single from Rivera.
After letting two runners on base with one out in the top of the eighth, O’Sullivan pulled Abner for UF sophomore closer Brandon Neely. He gave up a run on a fielder’s choice before securing the final out of the frame.
“I felt confident, just kept with the plan we had and went right at ‘em,” Neely said.
The Gators loaded the bases in the ninth but were unable to add to their cushion. Neely took the field once more and snagged the last three outs to secure the series.
Florida will look to sweep Vanderbilt tomorrow. The game is set for 1 p.m. and will stream on SEC Network+.
Jackson Castellano is a third-year sports media journalism student and the Digital Managing Editor at The Alligator for Spring 2024. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.