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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Florida edged by Stetson in first road loss

The Gators’ bats went cold after the third inning

Florida baseball head coach Kevin O'Sullivan visits the mound in the Gators' win over Columbia University on Saturday, February 24, 2024.
Florida baseball head coach Kevin O'Sullivan visits the mound in the Gators' win over Columbia University on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan alluded to it during the preseason: middle relief could be an issue. 

The amount of young, freshman arms Florida will have to rely on in 2024 might cause difficulties at times. 

“We’ve got probably about five or six freshmen that are going to have to help us on the weekends and, let alone, midweek games,” O’Sullivan said before the season. “We’re going to need a couple of those guys to be able to pitch in some leverage situations and be able to bridge the gap from our starter to Brandon [Neely] at the end.”

Tuesday, Florida elected to give freshman right-handed pitcher Luke McNeillie, one of the freshman relievers O’Sullivan referenced during the preseason, the start against the Stetson Hatters. 

McNeillie made his first appearance just three days prior and pitched 2 ⅔ innings, surrendering no runs and three hits.

However, when the Milton, Georgia, native took the mound against Stetson, his inexperience showed. McNeillie was unable to get out of the first and surrendered five runs on four hits and a walk. 

The No. 4 Florida Gators (5-2) fell to the Stetson Hatters (5-3) 7-4. The Gators’ bats went cold after the third inning.

Florida’s offense has shown it's more than capable of scoring a handful of runs. So, when the Hatters plated five in the first inning, the lead didn’t appear to be insurmountable.

It took a couple of innings, but the Gators quickly found its footing and dwindled their deficit to just one run during the third inning. 

Hatters starting pitcher Ty Van Dyke was dealing against Florida’s lineup and logged five strikeouts through two innings. However, his second time through the order didn’t look quite the same.

Van Dyke began the inning by surrendering a single to junior two-way player Jac Caglianone, who was driven home three pitches later. Sophomore catcher Luke Heyman barreled a 1-1 pitch and sent it beyond the left field wall for a two-run home run. 

Gators shortstop Colby Shelton followed with a double, and outfielder Ty Evans blasted a two-run shot to left field to make it a one-run game. 

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Van Dyke fanned Florida’s next three batters and finished the game with eight strikeouts over 3⅓ innings.

The Gators offense sparked at times but was unable to achieve any group success. 

Florida’s leadoff batter reached base in four different innings. Just once was the lineup able to push the leadoff runner home, which occurred in the third inning — the only time the Gators offense found any sort of momentum.

In the sixth inning, Florida had runners on first and second with just one out. Caglianone walked up to the plate with a prime opportunity to push across the tying score. The junior sliced under the first pitch he saw and popped out in foul territory toward third base.

The Gators didn’t get another runner in scoring position until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. By then, the Hatters had already extended their lead.

The Hatters added two insurance runs in the eighth inning off of Florida closer Brandon Neely. Neely allowed his first two batters to get on base and surrendered a run on an RBI single by sophomore outfielder Evan Griffis. 

Neely loaded the bases and walked in a run. He was pulled for freshman Reilley Witmer, who recorded the final out of the inning. 

Evans flew out with runners on first and second to conclude the ninth inning for the Gators.

Florida resumes play against Bethune Cookman (4-3) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Condron Family Ballpark. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+. 

Contact Luke Adragna at ladragna@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.

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Luke Adragna

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.


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