There was no doubt in the mind of Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan that he’d turn to Hurston Waldrep to make the start for the Gators with their season on the line.
“If we don’t win the season’s over,” he said. “That’s a pretty easy decision to make.”
The junior right-hander understood his assignment and exceeded what was asked of him.
Waldrep surrendered just one run and tossed 12 strikeouts in seven innings for Florida, cushioned behind five runs-batted-in by two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone.
His extended start was especially important for the Gators' bullpen, who were expected to digest the bulk of the pitches later Sunday if UF were to advance.
Waldrep paved the way, and the No. 2 Florida Gators (46-15, 20-10 SEC) defeated the No. 10 Connecticut Huskies (44-17, 15-5 Big East) 8-2 Sunday at Condron Family Ballpark. The Gators held their ground and won the first game of the three-straight they'll need to advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Super Regionals.
The Gators were first to break onto the scoreboard. Freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman led things off in the second inning with a double to right field. Junior outfielder Tyler Shelnut followed with a pop-out to center field, allowing Heyman to tag up and occupy third base.
The Gators quickly filled the diamond when junior third baseman Colby Halter was plunked on the first pitch of his at bat and true freshman second baseman Cade Kurland reached first on a four-pitch walk.
Coe continued to be riddled by his poor command and surrendered a bases-loaded walk to junior outfielder Wyatt Langford to allow the one and only run that inning to cross the plate.
UConn’s offense responded the next inning with a pair of hits to return the score to a tie, and Waldrep fired back with back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame.
The bottom of the third was short lived when Coe retired the Gators’ side on five total pitches. It was the final positive note he’d produce in his regional start after a fourth inning fiasco.
The left-hander began the fourth by surrendering walks to two of his first three hitters. Then, Kurland walked up to the plate. On the second pitch of his at-bat, Kurland drove a liner 108 mph back to Coe that plunked him and left him on the ground for nearly five minutes.
The right-hander hobbled off the field with some assistance, and Connecticut head coach Jim Penders called to the bullpen where senior right-hander Will Nowak readied to clean up the bases-loaded jam.
His stint on the mound didn’t last long. Nowak surrendered a sacrifice fly to right field and was pulled for freshman left-hander Zach Fogell after Florida took back its lead.
On the first pitch Fogell delivered, Caglianone connected and sent a towering fly ball to the center field concourse.
Florida took a 5-1 lead and never looked back.
With the addition of an RBI single in the fifth inning, Waldrep continued to navigate through the outing behind a more-than-comfortable cushion his offense provided him.
The righty made it through seven innings of work and O’Sullivan turned to right-hander Nick Ficarrotta to finish off the contest for the Gators.
Ficarrotta finished the final two innings of the contest, surrendering one run and tossing five strikeouts. The Gators won 8-2 behind a two-run blast from Caglianone in the bottom of the eighth.
Florida resumes play against the Texas Tech Red Raiders 6 p.m. Sunday. If the Gators win, they will continue play Monday in the Gainesville regional finale against the Red Raiders.
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.