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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Late offensive rally pushes Gators to series win against Columbia

Florida’s pitching prevailed to earn the Game 2 win

Florida baseball freshman right-handed pitcher Liam Peterson shows emotion after escaping a jam in the fourth inning of the team's game against Columbia University on Saturday, February 24, 2024.
Florida baseball freshman right-handed pitcher Liam Peterson shows emotion after escaping a jam in the fourth inning of the team's game against Columbia University on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

On a chilly February night at Condron Family Ballpark, thousands of fans tightly packed the left and right field berms, scrunching together to conserve any degree of body heat possible. 

A 57-degree first-pitch temperature didn’t stop 8,437 fans, a regular-season attendance record at Condron, from filling the ballpark to get a glimpse of the “Peterson experience.”

Freshman right-hander Liam Peterson made his first home start on Saturday after missing out on an opening weekend start against St. John's due to rain.

The freshman righty got to pitch Tuesday against North Florida and was masterful in his first career start. With a limited pitch count, he delivered three scoreless innings and struck out seven batters.

Peterson pitched four more scoreless innings on Saturday and helped the No. 4 Florida Gators (4-1) defeat the Columbia Lions (0-2) 7-3. The score was 1-0 until the eighth inning.

“Every pitch mattered, every play mattered, every at-bat mattered,” said head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “It was just a great game all around.”

Peterson looked effortless on the mound and quickly retired his first two batters of the first inning. He surrendered a double, which was caused by shortstop Colby Shelton, who misjudged a fly ball in short left field. 

The freshman followed with a strikeout and cruised until the fourth inning, backed behind a one-run lead earned by third baseman Dale Thomas in the second inning. On a full count, Thomas turned on a fastball and sent it beyond the left field wall and into the visitor's bullpen. 

“When you hit a ball, you kind of blackout,” Thomas said with a smile. “All the emotions go because you want to win so bad. And as you can see, I’m full of emotion.”

Peterson appeared irked after allowing a pair of runners on each corner to start the fourth. Ball after ball, his command completely got away from him. The freshman put his next batter on base with a walk, and O’Sullivan walked out for a brief visit to the mound.

“He told me to relax,” he said. “It just gave me that breather to focus in.”

Breathing is what helps Peterson in these types of situations.

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“I found, myself, that breathing works really well,” he said. “For me, I just really need to focus on my breathing, and usually it keeps me pretty relaxed.”

With one out and the bases loaded in a one-run game, it was do-or-die for the freshman. However, he remained cool as ever and struck out his next two batters.

Florida’s dugout cleared to rally around the freshman as he expressively jogged off the mound in jubilation. 

The inning wasn’t pretty, but Peterson showed an extreme level of poise not often seen from a freshman.

After the game, he acknowledged the value of the situation.

“I think experiencing that is definitely going to help me a lot,” Peterson said. “I think it’s good that we got it over with now, and hopefully something like that doesn’t happen again.”

The Gators pitching continued to deliver behind a one-run lead.

Freshman reliever Luke McNeillie was first to follow Peterson and pitched 2.2 innings. He surrendered three hits and recorded a strikeout in his first collegiate appearance.

Florida closer Brandon Neely took over on the hill and recorded the last out of the seventh. 

The Gators added six runs in the eighth inning with a two-run home run by right fielder Ty Evans, a sacrifice fly from Thomas, a two-run single by UF first baseman Jac Caglianone and a bases-loaded walk.

Neely finished the eighth, and right-handed pitcher Jake Clemente secured the final three outs of the game for the series victory despite surrendering a three-run home run with two outs. 

O’Sullivan was unphased even with the subpar performance from his reliever.

“We’re gonna have to continue to run [Clemente] out there and other guys out there because we’re gonna need some help as we go along,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s not that big of a deal in terms of the result.”

Florida looks for the series sweep against Columbia at 11 a.m. Sunday at Condron Family Ballpark. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.

Contact Luke Adragna at 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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