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Friday, May 24, 2024

Florida punches ticket to College World Series final

The Gators defeated TCU Wednesday for their first championship series berth since 2017

Florida shortstop Josh Rivera makes a play in the infield during the Gators' 3-0 win against Florida A&M Friday, June 2, 2023.
Florida shortstop Josh Rivera makes a play in the infield during the Gators' 3-0 win against Florida A&M Friday, June 2, 2023.

It’s June 24, 2017. Florida Gators sophomore closing pitcher Michael Byrne stands on the mound against the Texas Christian Horned Frogs. He’s an out away from the College World Series championship. He throws a strikeout and punches the Gators’ tickets to an eventual national title.

Nearly six years later, sophomore closing pitcher Brandon Neely had a chance to repeat history. He stood on the mound against TCU, one out away from a CWS championship berth. 

He worked two outs before leaving it in the hands of freshman outfielder Michael Robertson to put the Gators on the precipice of a national championship for the first time since 2017. 

Florida (53-15, 20-10 SEC) defeated Texas Christian (44-24, 13-11 Big 12) 3-2 Wednesday in the CWS semifinals. 

“It was kind of like ‘17, the same situation where we had Michael Byrne,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. 

The Gators entered the matchup 2-0 in Omaha, Nebraska, after nailbiter wins against Oral Roberts and Virginia. TCU fell in its opener of the CWS before winning two-straight contests and forced its way into the semifinals. 

Freshman right-handed pitcher Kole Klecker started on the mound for the Horned Frogs. He came in on short rest after throwing 87 pitches June 16 against ORU. He walked UF junior outfielder Wyatt Langford with one out. Sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone advanced Langford on a groundout to first.

Junior shortstop Josh Rivera dug in at the plate with two outs. Despite the wind blowing in at Charles Schwab Field, he launched a ball to left field for a two-run homer. 

Caglianone took the mound for the first time since June 2 against Florida A&M with a 2-0 cushion. He walked a batter with one out and advanced him on a wild pitch. TCU third baseman Brayden Taylor sent a ball out to shallow right field for an RBI single. 

The lefty continued to struggle as he walked the bases loaded with two outs. He escaped the jam with a strikeout and kept the Gators ahead 2-1 after the opening inning.

Florida’s bats kept rolling with a leadoff single from freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman in the top of the second. 

He was thrown out on a fielder’s choice as sophomore outfielder Ty Evans reached first. Junior third baseman Colby Halter singled up the middle to put two on, but the Gators left the pair stranded to end the half.

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The Horned Frogs put a runner on in the bottom of the second and advanced him to third on a pair of groundouts. Caglianone recorded his fourth punchout to retire the side.

The Gators went 1-2-3 through the top of the third inning. The Horned Frogs snagged another walk to put a runner on with one out, but Florida turned a double play to escape the opening third with a one-run lead.

Junior outfielder Tyler Shelnut singled to left field with two outs in the fourth, but the Gators couldn’t convert and went back to Caglianone on the hill.

TCU put another runner on with another plunked batter and advanced to second on a groundout. Outfielder Logan Maxwell dropped a single in the gap and the leading runner was waved home. UF fifth-year catcher BT Riopelle made the tag to keep the run off the board and the Gators escaped the inning with the lead.

Langford doubled with two outs in the top of the fifth. He was left stranded to make it 2-1 Gators at the halfway point of the contest.

Caglianone’s night on the mound ended in the bottom of the fifth after he gave up a one-out single. O’Sullivan opted to pull the lefty for sophomore reliever Ryan Slater.

“Jac was really good,” O’Sullivan said. “He made some good pitches, and he’ll probably say otherwise, but at the end of the day he bent but didn’t break.”

Slater let up a single on his first batter faced and put two on with one out. He then walked the bases loaded facing TCU standout Tre Richardson. Slater struck out the slugger and snagged a fly out to get out of the jam.

Rivera continued his hot streak at the plate with a leadoff single to right field in the sixth inning. The knock prompted TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos to pull Klecker for freshman left-handed reliever Ben Abeldt.

Heyman met Abeldt at the plate for a prolonged at-bat. The UF freshman singled to put two on with one out, but he and Rivera were stranded at the plate to end the inning. 

The Gators forced another 1-2-3 inning from TCU with the help of a Halter gem to get the third out. Florida mirrored the Frogs, going three up, three down itself topped off by a loud out to center field by Langford.

Freshman left-handed pitcher Cade Fisher took over on the rubber for UF in the bottom of the  seventh. He worked through the frame unscathed and brought the Gators bats up for the eighth.

Rivera doubled with one out in the eighth inning for his third hit of the afternoon. Florida couldn’t capitalize on the baserunner and handed it back to Fisher for the bottom frame.

Fisher secured the first out and was pulled for Neely. He gave up a hit to his first batter and the runner advanced on a groundout.

TCU freshman Anthony Silva stepped to the plate and launched a ball just past Langford’s outstretched glove for an automatic RBI double. Neely notched a strikeout and closed the eighth, but the game was all tied 2-2 headed into the ninth inning.

Shelnut led off the ninth inning with a hard double to the outfield. TCU brought out junior right-hander Garrett Wright in relief of Abeldt. Robertson entered as a pinch runner and advanced to third on a deep sacrifice fly by Halter.

Freshman infielder Cade Kurland dug in with two outs. He sent a rocket deep into the left infield and ran out the play at first to score Robertson.

Florida entered the bottom of the ninth with a one-run cushion for Neely to protect. 

He worked the final three outs and the Gators punched their tickets for the championship series once again.

“It’s not easy to get to this point, it’s just not,” O’Sullivan said. “This team is very different from the ‘17 team, but in the most important ways, for me, very similar.” 

Florida will take on either Wake Forest or Louisiana State in game one of the CWS championship Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Jackson Castellano at jcastellano@alligator.org. 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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