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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Florida drops opener to LSU in College World Series finals

Tigers designated hitter Cade Beloso hit the winning home run in the 11th inning

Florida starting pitcher Brandon Sproat steps off the mound during the Gators' 5-4 loss to Texas Tech Saturday, June 3, 2022.
Florida starting pitcher Brandon Sproat steps off the mound during the Gators' 5-4 loss to Texas Tech Saturday, June 3, 2022.

OMAHA, Neb. — Regression to the mean is inevitable. 

The Florida Gators had escaped the mean in its College World Series run so far. The team scraped three one-run wins to earn a championship berth in miraculous fashion. Wins are wins, but waiting for miracles is not a winning strategy. 

When the Gators met Louisiana State in game one of the CWS finale Saturday, the mean caught up and reality set in.

Florida (53-16, 20-10 SEC) fell to LSU (53-16, 19-10 SEC) 4-3 Saturday in game one of the tournament finale. The Gators now have their backs against the wall in the championship series. 

“It is what it is,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We got outplayed tonight.”

The Gators made their way to the championship series 3-0, but it was far from smooth sailing for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and company.

Freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman walked-off Virginia in its CWS opener after trailing 5-3 in the ninth. They escaped near disaster against Oral Roberts after a miscount in mound visits put the ballgame in freshman reliever Cade Fisher’s hands. 

UF clinched a championship series berth against Texas Christian thanks to a game-winning run and catch from freshman outfielder Michael Robertson. 

The Tigers made their way through the loser’s side of their bracket after falling to No. 1 Wake Forest in the second round. They venged the loss in the bracket final to earn a shot at the national title.

Florida junior starting pitcher Brandon Sproat was tasked with taking on a dangerous LSU batting order headed up by Golden Spikes Award finalist Dylan Crews. Sproat plunked the Tigers’ slugger with a 1-2 fastball and put the leadoff man on base in the first.

The right-handed ace struck out White and forced LSU first baseman Tre Morgan into a groundout which advanced Skenes into scoring position.

Fifth-year second baseman Gavin Dugas worked Sproat into a full count and continually fouled off pitches. Dugas earned a walk after an 11-pitch plate appearance to put two on with two down. 

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Tigers designated hitter Cade Beloso lobbed a ball into left field to score Skenes and put LSU on top early, 1-0. Sproat punched out the final batter and returned the dugout 31 pitches deep.

UF couldn’t replicate its opponent's scoring start in the bottom of the first. Sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone was awarded a two-out double after his fly ball landed in between three LSU fielders. 

Junior shortstop Josh Rivera dug in behind him and worked a 2-2 count. He waved by a high fastball from LSU starting righty Ty Floyd for the third strikeout, and the Gators closed the first inning down one run. 

Sproat continued to struggle locating his pitches despite snagging his third and fourth strikeout in two innings. He walked LSU outfielder Josh Pearson and gave up a single to turn over the order with two on. 

He plunked Crews for the second time and brought White to the plate with loaded bases. Florida junior third baseman Colby Halter snagged a line-drive to prevent a surefire RBI. Sproat snuck a changeup in the zone for out number three and pulled the Gators out of the early jam.

Heyman singled through the right infield with one out in the bottom second, but was left stranded on a pair of strikeouts from outfielders Ty Evans and Tyler Shelnut. 

Sproat took the mound for the third frame with his pitch count at 55. Dugas turned on Sproat’s 2-1 offering and sent a leadoff homer into the Florida bullpen. 

Suddenly, it was a 2-0 ballgame with no outs and Sproat was up to 65 pitches. 

Injury turned to insult as freshman infielder Cade Kurland mishandled a bare hand grab to put two Tigers on with one out. Both runners advanced to scoring position on a groundout to first.

Sproat closed the frame on his sixth strikeout and 86th total pitch through just three innings.

Kurland earned a walk in the bottom third with one out. Langford stepped to the plate and blasted a ball into deep right field. Third base coach Taylor Black gave Kurland the stop sign at third to put runners on the corners with Caglianone at-bat.

The freshman infielder made his way home on a groundout at first. Langford advanced to third on the play and served as the potential tying run with Rivera, Florida’s hottest bat in Omaha, at the plate.

He struck out swinging and the Gators settled for a 2-1 deficit through the middle third. 

After the shaky start, Sproat looked like he was settling in for the fourth inning. He made quick work of Crews and White before letting up a two-out single. 

Both sides went scoreless through the fourth. Sproat emerged from the dugout for the top of the fifth with 107 pitches under his belt. He walked the leadoff man and O’Sullivan opted to relieve Sproat in exchange for Fisher.

In his final appearance in a Florida uniform, Sproat finished with six hits, two earned runs, five walks and seven strikeouts in four innings pitched.  

Fisher  retired three-straight batters with two strikeouts to make it consecutive scoreless innings for LSU.

Evans doubled down the left field line to leadoff the bottom of the fifth. Halter put down a sacrifice bunt to advance the sophomore to third with one down. Kurland stepped up and knocked in the tying run on a bobbled groundout to first. 

The contest was back even after the fifth inning.

Fisher let up a pair of singles in the sixth but worked out of it to give the Tigers their third consecutive scoreless frame. 

BT Riopelle got the bat moving for Florida with two down in the bottom half. He barrelled a 1-0 pitch well past the right field wall for a solo-shot home run and UF finished the sixth up 3-2. Fisher kept momentum up with a 1-2-3 inning and moved his strikeout total to five.

Floyd responded aptly, punching out the side for his fifteenth strikeout of the night.

LSU tied things up once more in the eighth. White clobbered Fisher’s 0-2 pitch for a one-run bomb. Fisher gave up another hit to Morgan and O’Sullivan marched towards the mound and ended the lefty’s night.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Brandon Neely took over with one out and Morgan on first. He worked a pop-up and struck out Beloso with three-straight heaters to keep it tied.

Floyd continued to dice UF’s lineup. He struck out his seventeenth batter in the bottom of the eight. The figure marks a CWS single-game record.

Neely sat LSU 1-2-3 to put it in Florida’s hands in the bottom of the ninth. The Gators stranded a runner on second and the championship opener headed to extra innings.

Florida’s All-SEC closer didn’t waver despite putting Crews and White on base. He retired the next three batters to put the game back on the Gators’ shoulders. 

Halter led off on first after taking a pitch to the wrist. Kurland hit a chopper back at LSU closer Riley Cooper which gave both runners time to reach base safely. Langford nearly capitalized on a line drive to left field, but the Gators ultimately left the inning scoreless.

“Obviously that sucks,” Langford said.  “And it’s probably something I’ll never forget, looking back at it.” 

Neely went out the top of the 11th and 

UF couldn’t keep the magic alive in the final frame and absorbed the opening game defeat. 

The Gators look to even the series tomorrow at 2 p.m on ESPN. Junior right-handed pitcher Hurston Waldrep (10-3, 3.99 ERA) will start on the mound for Florida. 

“Anytime [Waldrep gets on the mound it’s a great advantage for us,” Riopelle said. “Ultimately, we have to go out and execute.”

Contact Jackson Castellano at Follow him on Twitter @jaxacastellano.

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Jackson Castellano

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.

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