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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Gators dismantle Commodores in weekend series, idealize playoff picture

Florida swept the Commodores and moved to first place in the SEC East division

<p>Jac Caglianone pitches during Florida’s 6-2 win against Vanderbilt Sunday, May 14, 2023.</p>

Jac Caglianone pitches during Florida’s 6-2 win against Vanderbilt Sunday, May 14, 2023.

After a disappointing weekend against the Texas A&M Aggies, the Gators squared off against the No. 5 Vanderbilt Commodores in a matchup that held much at stake.

The Commodores carried a two-game edge over the Gators for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings, and Florida likely needed a series win to keep its first-place chances alive.

The Gators mercy-ruled the Commodores 10-0 in seven innings May 12th after a walk-off hit from Gators sophomore two-way star Jac Caglianone and continued its momentum May 13th with a 6-2 victory despite an extensive rain delay that soddened conditions throughout the game.

With Florida’s final regular season series around the corner and the SEC tournament nearly a week away, UF looked for the sweep to provide extra cushion before it began its playoff run. In one-sided fashion, the Gators got the job done.

The No. 7 Florida Gators (40-12, 18-9 SEC) defeated Vanderbilt (35-16, 17-10 SEC) 6-2 May 14th to complete the series sweep at Condron Family Ballpark, drastically improving their outlook in the SEC baseball tournament and National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

The win meant Florida improved its division record to 18-9 and secured a top-four seed in the SEC tournament. A seeding this high means the Gators are guaranteed an opening-round bye. Moreover, the weekend sweep may decide whether or not the Gators host through the super regional stage of the NCAA tournament.

If Florida makes it past the regional round, they may play two consecutive weeks of baseball in front of its home crowd before the winner of the super regional stage advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

May 14th’s contest between the Gators and Commodores was headlined by one player in particular: Florida junior outfielder Wyatt Langford.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Gators finalized the series sweep against the Vanderbilt Commodores, Langford made a grab that induced a roar among the crowd.

The junior outfielder ranged far to his right, approached the warning track, jumped and angled his glove above his head to keep Vanderbilt senior first baseman Parker Noland from recording an extra-base hit.

The defensive gem was one of many contributions Langford made during the series finale.

He hit a double and two home runs to help finalize the sweep for the Gators.

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“I just felt good up there and I was just ready to hit,” Langford said. “That’s really all.”

Vanderbilt sophomore starting pitcher Greysen Carter began the contest and surrendered a leadoff walk to Florida freshman second baseman Cade Kurland. UF’s next batter, Langford, connected on a pitch and sent it over the left field wall for a two-run shot to give the Gators an early lead.

Commodores head coach Tim Corbin showed little faith in his right-handed starter and made the decision to pull Carter in a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning. He looked toward right-handed sophomore reliever Bryce Cunningham to clean up the mess.

The sophomore pitcher completed the inning and gave up one run on a fielder’s choice run batted in by Florida freshman first baseman Luke Heyman.

The Gators led by three after one inning but were stifled by Cunningham, who made it through three and two-thirds innings and surrendered one run. UF’s offensive spurt began with two outs in the fourth inning when freshman center fielder Michael Robertson earned a walk. 

Kurland followed up the freshman center fielder with a single to left-center field. Robertson completed his trip around the bases when Langford attacked a pitch for an RBI double.

Vanderbilt wrapped up the inning when Kurland blew through a stop sign at third base and was called out as he slid into home plate.

While the Gators fought it out in the batter’s box, Caglianone patiently waited in the dugout for his opportunity to take back command of the rubber. The sophomore two-way star pitched through five innings of work and totaled six strikeouts and surrendered only one walk and one hit.

Florida added another run in the fifth inning off a single from UF senior catcher BT Riopelle, and Caglianone gradually paced to the mound with a five-run lead.

The 6-foot-5-inch phenom tossed a 1-2-3 inning and struck out two of the first three batters in the seventh inning. Caglianone’s pitch count exceeded the century mark and Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made his way to the mound with his right hand open at his side, hinting that Caglianone’s outing was over.

The sophomore received a standing ovation as he jogged off the field, and in came Florida sophomore reliever Brandon Neely to finish the job.

Neely exited the inning after he gave up two hits and allowed a runner Caglianone had left on to score. Each team tallied one more run, and the sophomore reliever completed the game with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Florida completed its first sweep against Vanderbilt since April 1, 2018, and moved to first place within its division. Florida’s tournament seeding is positioned as contingent on its outcome versus Kentucky next week.

The series contest against the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats (36-15, 15-12 SEC) begins at 6:30 p.m. May 18th at Kentucky Proud Park.

“They’re a handful: They run the bases, they do certain conventional things, they bunt,” O’Sullivan said. “If we play good, we got a chance to beat anybody, if we don’t, we got a chance to be beat by anybody.”

Contact Luke Adragna at ladragna@alligator.org. 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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