Monday’s contest against the Texas Tech Red Raiders was a full-circle moment for the Florida Gators.
Last year, the Gators fell to the Oklahoma Sooners in game two of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Regional round and were forced to claw their way out of the loser’s bracket and win three games in a row.
Florida made it to the regional finale against Oklahoma, but after a five-hour weather delay in the seventh inning, the Sooners came back and scored four runs in the eighth on then-freshman reliever Ryan Slater.
Slater had an opportunity to redeem himself from last season’s loss when head coach Kevin O’Sullivan assigned him to start Monday’s game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
He pitched five shutout innings as UF secured the win and completed its regional redemption.
The No. 2 Florida Gators (47-15, 20-10 SEC) defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders (41-23, 12-12 Big XII) 6-0 Monday at Condron Family Ballpark. The win propelled the Gators to the NCAA Super Regional round for the first time since 2018.
“Last year left a bad taste in our mouths,” UF junior shortstop Josh Rivera said. “I’m sure [Slater] had that in the back of his mind.”
The contest started off slow and Red Raiders right-handed starter Jacob Rogers held the Gators offense at bay for nearly three innings.
He opened up his outing with a 1-2-3 first, striking out two batters. Rogers surrendered a leadoff single to Rivera in the second. The UF shortstop stole second base later in the inning, but the right-hander struck out two more batters and forced a pop-out in foul territory for a second clean inning.
Everything was working in the favor of Rogers after he earned a double play in the third inning, until Florida junior outfielder Wyatt Langford stepped up to the plate.
Langford belted a 2-1 pitch that traveled well beyond the left field bullpen — setting precedent for a flurry of scores throughout the next three innings.
Texas Tech head coach Tim Tadlock brought out junior right-hander Josh Sanders to start the fourth inning. The game blew apart in his first two pitches.
Sanders surrendered a leadoff single to Rivera, and one pitch later, Florida catcher BT Riopelle connected on a 93 mph fastball that leaked too far over the plate. The ball flew past the center field wall and tacked on two more runs that provided plenty of breathing room for Slater.
Slater made it through four scoreless innings, despite surrendering at least one runner in each. He continued to navigate his way through the Texas Tech lineup.
“He was quick,” Red Raiders senior outfielder Nolen Hester said. “We didn’t really have any chance to breathe up there.”
Slater pitched one more clean frame at the top of the fifth, and the Gators solidified a comfortable lead in the bottom half inning that followed.
Red Raiders freshman shortstop Will Burns bobbled a routine ground ball and allowed Langford to reach first.
The outfielder stole second, and because of an infield shift with sophomore Jac Caglianone up to bat, Langford quickly popped up from his slide and jolted to third with no one covering the base.
Rivera followed with a run-batted-in single up the middle and Riopelle blasted his second home run of the day, marking the final barrage of scores UF earned Monday.
O’Sullivan turned to his bullpen after Slater surrendered a leadoff single in the sixth inning.
Left-handed sophomore Philip Abner absorbed a chunk of relief innings and pitched two full frames. He surrendered one hit and two walks with no runs scored.
O’Sullivan made one last call and pivoted to sophomore closer Brandon Neely for the final two innings of the contest.
After surrendering one walk with two outs in the ninth, the righty struck out his final batter and capped off the three-elimination-game comeback by the Gators.
“We’re the Florida Gators. We know how good we are,” UF junior outfielder Tyler Shelnut said after the 7-1 win against the Red Raiders Sunday. “When we go out and play our type of baseball and play hard and aggressive, nobody is gonna beat us.”
Florida will play the South Carolina Gamecocks Friday in the NCAA Super Regional round. The series is best out of three, and the winner advances to the College World Series.
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.