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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gators prepare for NCAA tournament after SEC semifinals loss

Florida was eliminated by the 2023 SEC Tournament Champion Vanderbilt Commodores

Jac Caglianone rounds the bases during Florida's 10-0 win against Vanderbilt Friday, May 12, 2023.
Jac Caglianone rounds the bases during Florida's 10-0 win against Vanderbilt Friday, May 12, 2023.

The Gators’ season-long dominance over the Vanderbilt Commodores came to an end in the semifinals round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Sophomore left-hander Jac Caglianone took the mound for Florida but failed to muster a quality start to propel the Gators to a win. 

When the two faced earlier this season, the lefty threw nine strikeouts and surrendered one run. Caglianone entered the outing riding two consecutive impressive starts in which he pitched 17 strikeouts and surrendered a single run across 13.2 innings of work. 

His success diminished in the first inning of the semifinals round May 27. Vanderbilt found its way to get to the starter along with some assistance from multiple self-inflicted wounds by Florida’s defense.

The No. 2 Florida Gators (44-14, 20-10 SEC) were eliminated from the SEC tournament by the No. 8 Vanderbilt Commodores (40-18, 19-11 SEC) 11-6 Saturday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama.

The damage began when UF junior shortstop Josh Rivera misjudged a line drive that popped off his glove. 

Caglianone walked his next batter before he committed a costly error. The lefty snagged a soft comebacker hit to the mound and looked immediately toward third base for the forceout. He awkwardly tossed a ball that soared over the head of junior third baseman Dale Thomas and allowed a run to score.

The sophomore two-way star 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 the Commodores.

Vanderbilt scored six unearned runs in the contest which provided plenty of cushion for the Commodores to advance to the championship round. The Gators strung together late scores but fell to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament semifinals. 

“He just wasn’t as collected as he’s been in his prior starts,” UF senior catcher BT Riopelle said of Caglianone. “All we can do is flush it. I know he’s a mentally strong kid.” 

The poor performance didn’t entirely characterize Florida’s play in Hoover, Alabama. UF finished its season with a 4-1 record against Vanderbilt, and despite missing the championship round, the Gators found plenty of success in their first two matchups of the tournament. 

Florida began its tournament run in thrilling fashion against the Alabama Crimson Tide, May 24. The two teams battled it out in extra innings, and the Gators came out on top in the 11th inning when senior catcher BT Riopelle cranked a walk-off three-run home run to soar past the Tide 7-6. 

Florida’s next day in the tournament came against the Commodores. After an impressive start from Gators junior starting pitcher Brandon Sproat and a five runs-batted-in performance from Riopelle in a 6-3 win, the Gators advanced to the semifinals round. 

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The victory earned UF an extra day of preparation for a rematch in the semifinals against the Commodores that didn’t go quite as expected with the disastrous first frame. 

Caglianone surrendered six runs, four hits and two walks in 1.2 innings of work, and UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan rotated throughout his bullpen and made five pitching changes the remainder of the game.

Sophomore Florida relievers Tyler Nesbitt, Blake Purnell, Fisher Jameson and freshman reliever Chris Arroyo combined for more than four innings of work and surrendered just one unearned run. The performance extended the outstanding stretch among UF’s bullpen pitchers who have completely resurged after beginning the season as one of the weakest in the SEC. 

“It just takes time,” O’Sullivan said. “It's a long season, and guys will figure it out, you just don't know who. We certainly have a bullpen now that we feel comfortable with. Some of those guys have stepped forward and really solidified our bullpen.”

The Gators’ tournament run also featured impressive performances from Riopelle who drove in 10 RBIs throughout the weekend, setting a Florida SEC tournament record. 

Freshman second baseman Cade Kurland also hit his 16th home run of the season in the semifinal matchup. He set the record for the highest number of home runs hit by a UF middle infielder in a season and finished two shy of the freshman home run record set by J.J. Schwarz in 2015 with 18. 

“We’ve got bigger and better things ahead of us,” O’Sullivan said. 

The Gators have a lot to build upon with their SEC Tournament performance as they head into the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Florida will host the regional round of the tournament starting June 2, and will be the No. 2 national seed in the tournament. 

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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