It seemed nearly impossible for Florida two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone to top his outing against Vanderbilt so late in the season. The sophomore struck out nine and surrendered only one run and a hit in six and two-thirds innings of work against the Commodores, which was his best statistical performance to date.
The Gators entered a rubber match against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday after they won 10-3 Thursday and lost 6-4 Friday night.
Caglianone manned the start on Saturday and worked seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits total to lead the way in the Gators regular season finale.
The No. 4 Florida Gators (42-13, 20-10 SEC) defeated the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats (36-17, 16-14 SEC) 5-2 Saturday at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Florida’s offense was abnormally tepid until the seventh inning came and UF broke open the stalemate.
No Gators other than Caglianone figured a way around Kentucky’s arsenal of pitchers.
Florida began the contest hitting into two quick outs. Freshman second baseman Cade Kurland hit a lineout to the middle infield and junior outfielder Wyatt Langford struck out.
It seemed as if the Gators would give Kentucky junior starting pitcher Austin Strickland a run for his money when Caglianone swatted a double that narrowly soared over the outstretched glove of Wildcats sophomore second baseman Émilien Pitre.
Instead, it was the only hit UF earned until the seventh frame.
Strickland had the Gators offense completely figured out. The junior right-hander tossed two straight 1-2-3 innings and gave up a runner in the top of the fourth when he plunked Caglianone. Strickland forced Florida junior shortstop Josh Rivera into a popout and struck out senior catcher BT Riopelle to end the inning.
The Wildcats starter continued to dwindle UF’s offense and struck out three of the next six batters he faced without surrendering a single runner.
Saturday’s contest remained quiet until the seventh inning rolled around.
Caglianone led off the frame with a five-pitch walk. He stole second, and Rivera forced the sophomore to third with a flawlessly executed bunt to the catcher.
Florida’s next batter up, Riopelle, hit a deep drive to left field that came up just short of the warning track and allowed his starting arm to score from third.
The Gators finally cracked the scoreboard and never looked back.
Florida junior utility player Tyler Shelnut singled on a hard-hit drive to the left-side gap that Wildcats senior shortstop Grant Smith backhanded and quickly fired to first base. The ball forced senior first baseman Hunter Gilliam to come off the bag and leap toward the soaring throw, but the ball flew past his glove and allowed Shelnut to reach second base.
Shelnut completed his trip around the bases when Florida freshman first baseman Luke Heyman hit a single to center field to extend the Gators’ lead to two.
UF’s offensive efforts completely banded together when Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made the decision to pinch hit Dale Thomas for junior infielder Colby Halter.
Thomas — who has only started in ten games during Florida’s 2023 season — left his mark on the game with a two-run shot to push the Gators’ lead to four.
Kentucky sophomore relief pitcher Evan Byers threw an offspeed pitch that leaked over the plate just enough for the Coastal Carolina transfer to send the ball over the right field wall.
The Wildcats attempted to chip away at the lead and scored two runs in the eighth and ninth innings. The scores weren’t enough to overcome the four-run deficit. Florida won the contest 5-2 and capped off its regular season with a victory.
The Gators look ahead to the Southeastern Conference tournament May 23 in Hoover, Alabama. The opening matchups of the tournament are expected to be finalized at the conclusion of Saturday’s SEC final regular season matchups.
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.