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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Gators conclude SEC Tournament run in loss to Vanderbilt

Florida failed to rebound after going down 6-0 to start the contest

Florida sophomore Jac Caglianone looks over the shoulders of Vanderbilt players during the Gators' 10-0 victory against the Commodores Friday, May 12, 2023.
Florida sophomore Jac Caglianone looks over the shoulders of Vanderbilt players during the Gators' 10-0 victory against the Commodores Friday, May 12, 2023.

The Gators’ season-long dominance over the Vanderbilt Commodores came to an end Saturday when sophomore left-hander Jac Caglianone took the mound for Florida. 

When the two faced earlier this season, the lefty threw nine strikeouts and surrendered just one run. Vanderbilt found a way to get to him Saturday with the help of five unearned runs given up by Florida’s defense.

The No. 1 seed Florida Gators (44-14, 20-10 SEC) were defeated by the Vanderbilt Commodores (40-18, 19-11 SEC) 11-6 Saturday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. Florida’s rough start led to its elimination from the Southeastern Conference Tournament. 

UF freshman second baseman Cade Kurland led-off the contest for the Gators and earned a walk on a 3-2 count. The freshman’s stint on the basepaths was short-lived when he attempted to steal second on Vanderbilt junior catcher Allen Espinal. Espinal popped up firing to second and Kurland was called out on the play. 

The Gators’ next batter — junior outfielder Wyatt Langford — doubled down the left field line. Commodores freshman starting pitcher JD Thompson retired the next two batters to squander UF’s momentum and make way for Vanderbilt’s offense to take charge. 

The bottom half of the first began with an error by Florida junior shortstop Josh Rivera. Rivera miscalculated a line drive that popped off his glove. 

Florida sophomore right-hander Jac Caglianone walked his next batter before committing a costly mistake. The righty snagged a soft comebacker hit to the mound and looked immediately towards third base for the forceout. He sent a ball that soared over the head of junior third baseman Dale Thomas and allowed a run to score.

Caglianone hit his next batter, struck out the next two and became the victim of another faulty mistake. He threw a wild pitch and allowed a second unearned run to cross home plate, and followed it by allowing a double to score two more runs for Vanderbilt. 

The bleeding finally stopped when Commodores freshman second baseman RJ Austin attempted to score from second base on a single to left field. Langford charged the ball and, on a short-hop, fired a laser to home where Gators senior catcher BT Riopelle tagged Austin out. 

UF failed to produce any offense its next time at the plate. Thompson surrendered a walk but tallied three strikeouts in the inning.

The Gators deficit magnified in the bottom of the second frame when Espinal cranked a home run to lead off the inning. Caglianone allowed two more runners on the basepath when Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan gestured to the left-hander that his day was over. 

O’Sullivan called for sophomore righty Nick Ficarrotta to handle the mound, however, he struggled just as much as his predecessor.   

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Ficarrotta got out of the second after he allowed a run to cross the plate, and surrendered six hits for four runs in the third inning.

The Gators finally got to Thompson his second time through the order. 

Kurland and freshman utility player Luke Heyman hit a pair of solo shots in the third and fourth inning, and UF tacked on three more runs in the fifth off a 117 mph two-run home run by Langford and a run-batted-in single from Riopelle. Kurland’s knock set the Gators’ single-season home run record for a middle infielder with 16. He finished two shy of the freshman home run record set by J.J. Schwarz in 2015. 

O’Sullivan vacillated between his array of relief pitchers and made four pitching changes between the fourth and seventh innings. 

Vanderbilt added on a run in the sixth frame when UF right fielder Tyler Shelnut misjudged a fly ball. The ball popped off his glove and welcomed Espinal to score with ease. 

The Gators tacked on one more run in the seventh inning. The inning looked promising when UF hit three consecutive singles to load up the bases. Riopelle drove in his second RBI of the day with a grounder to third, but UF left two on base when Heyman flied out. Riopelle recorded his tenth RBI in Hoover, a Gators SEC tournament record.  

The Gators put on their first two batters via walk to lead off the eighth inning, but the glimpse of offensive momentum came to a screeching halt when VU senior right-hander Nick Maldonado took over the mound. 

The righty retired three consecutive batters in the eighth and fanned the final three in the ninth to send the Commodores to the SEC tournament final to match up against the Texas A&M Aggies. 

The Gators’ season will continue in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Florida is expected to host the regional round of the tournament starting June 3. The NCAA Selection show will broadcast May 29 at noon on ESPN2 

Contact Luke Adragna at Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.

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Luke Adragna

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.

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