Florida closing pitcher Brandon Neely watched as a routine pop-up landed in the hands of freshman infielder Cade Kurland for Neely’s 14th save of the year. But this was no routine out.
A dog pile ensued. Gloves were tossed in the air. A raucous crowd of orange and blue yelled “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.”
After a historic regular season and an eight-inning shutout from Florida junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep, the Gators are headed to the College World Series.
“As soon as I stepped on the mound, I knew it was gonna be a good day,” Waldrep said.
The righty paved the way toward victory, and the No. 2 seed Florida Gators (50-15, 20-10 SEC) defeated the No. 15 seed South Carolina Gamecocks (42-21, 16-13 SEC) 4-0 Saturday at Condron Family Ballpark. Florida will appear in its 13th College World Series in program history.
A quick start hasn’t been pivotal for a Gators team that has come back from numerous deficits throughout the season, but it certainly added some leverage.
UF junior infielder Colby Halter began the scoring in the second inning and delivered a pair of runs.
Florida senior catcher BT Riopelle began the frame with a full-count walk and freshman designated hitter player Luke Heyman followed with a single. Both runners advanced an additional base with a groundout by junior outfielder Tyler Shelnut, setting up Halter to produce the finishing blow.
Halter drove a pitch down the right field line for a two-out double. The Gators took a two-run lead, and the team never looked back.
Waldrep rode plenty of momentum Saturday after his seven-inning performance against Connecticut. The six-foot-two-inch product out of Thomasville, Georgia, tossed thirteen strikeouts and surrendered one run against Connecticut and undoubtedly one-upped his performance Saturday.
Waldrep let up a bloop single to begin the contest, but he never wavered. The Gators’ starter responded with a punch-out and line-out. Riopelle secured the final out of the first and caught senior designated hitter Will McGillis during his pursuit to second base.
The Gators had numerous opportunities midway through the game to plate additional runs but repeatedly came short. Gamecocks right-handed senior Jack Mahoney loaded up the bases in the fourth and got out of the jam with a groundout by UF senior outfielder Richie Schiekofer.
Rivera did supply a run in the fifth with a single to left field, but South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston made a call to the bullpen, putting a stop to the short spurt of offense.
South Carolina junior right-hander Chris Veach took over the hill and struck out two consecutive batters. The Gators left runners on second and third but remained in control of the game behind the impressive start from Waldrep.
The right-hander cruised through the next two innings and allowed his first instance of effective contact when freshman right fielder Ethan Petry lined a single to the left field gap. Even when it seemed like the Gamecocks could initiate some offense, Waldrep immediately shut down the idea.
The righty struck out two more batters in the sixth and added two more in the seventh — putting his total to 11 on the day.
“That was the best stuff he’s had all year,” Riopelle said. “He put his complete arsenal on display from pitch one.”
Halter provided an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth and Waldrep finished just shy of a complete game and exited the game at the top of the ninth after surrendering a leadoff single. He left the mound with 13 strikeouts and eight innings of shutout baseball.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan pivoted to Neely, and the All-SEC sophomore retired the final three batters for the victory.
The Gators start the first round of the College World Series Friday. The schedule and matchups will be released as teams finish out Super Regionals this weekend.
“Our season’s not over,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll let this story play out, and we’ll see where it ends.”
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.