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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Jac Caglianone saves Gators series with walk-off blast in ninth inning

Florida walked off two games against Mississippi State over the weekend

Florida junior southpaw Jac Caglianone delivers a pitch in the Gators’ 4-3 win against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday, March 31, 2024.
Florida junior southpaw Jac Caglianone delivers a pitch in the Gators’ 4-3 win against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Mississippi State decided to intentionally walk Jac Caglianone earlier in the game. But with the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate, there really wasn’t any other option but to pitch to him.

The ending felt almost too fitting.

On a 1-2 count with no outs, Bulldogs sophomore reliever Evan Siary’s fastball leaked over the heart of the plate. Caglianone pulled the center-cut heater past the right field wall for a walk-off, two-run home run.

“Keep fighting for each other,” he said after the game. “That's going to carry us back to Omaha.”

The No. 6 Florida Gators (16-11, 6-3 SEC) beat the No. 21 Mississippi State Bulldogs (19-10, 4-5 SEC) 4-3 March 31 at Condron Family Ballpark, winning its 16th-straight weekend series at home.

Caglianone’s ninth inning home run was just the start to Florida’s dramatic week. 

The week began with a 14-3 loss to the Florida State Seminoles March 26, which led head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to make significant changes to his ballclub.

For the first time in O’Sullivan’s 19-year head coaching career, the Gators will practice on Mondays. It’s a change that should’ve occurred “weeks ago,” O’Sullivan said.

“I’ve seen about enough of this,” he said after the loss.

In addition to the scheduling change, O’Sullivan elected to make right-hander Brandon Neely, Florida’s All-SEC closer, the Friday night starter to replace lefty Cade Fisher.

The decision paid off in Neely’s first night starting against Mississippi State March 29. 

The right-hander had a less-than-ideal start and surrendered five runs in 3.1 innings. However, Fisher reprised his role out of the bullpen, a position he enjoyed immense success in last season, and surrendered just one run in 3.1 innings pitched.

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“First couple of innings, Brandon was really, really sharp,” O’Sullivan said. “I mean without that performance, we don’t win the ballgame, and he was just really good.” 

Florida won the series opener and came back down two runs in the ninth inning. Sophomore infielder Cade Kurland hit an RBI single with two outs to walk off the contest, 7-6. 

The Gators followed with a forgettable game against the Bulldogs March 30. Florida surrendered 11 runs in the middle innings and eventually lost 12-2.

It set up a rubber match March 31 that O’Sullivan said he knew would go down to the wire. 

“It’s been one of those years, and nothing seems to be surprising at this point,” O’Sullivan said. “I had an idea it was going to be a low-scoring game, not a normal Sunday game.”

Caglianone started on the mound and was nearly perfect through the first four innings March 31. He retired 12 consecutive Mississippi State batters after plunking his first hitter of the game.

However, after surrendering his first run in the fourth inning, his command got completely away from him. The southpaw walked four batters, one intentionally, the following inning and surrendered two runs. 

“I need to do a better job for all those guys in the dugout to make sure the wheels don’t fall off,” he said. “[I] can’t have great outings all the time.”

Caglianone’s final two innings eerily mirrored Bulldogs right-hander Karson Ligon’s start. Ligon lasted just 2.1 innings, walking three and hitting two batters.

The Gators capitalized on his erratic pitching when sophomore shortstop Colby Shelton advanced home on a wild pitch in the third inning.

Florida held a one-run lead until Caglianone’s no-hitter was broken up in the fifth inning.

Senior center fielder Connor Hujsak led off with a double, and sophomore designated hitter Bryce Chance blistered an RBI single to right field to even the score at one run apiece.

The Bulldogs quickly gained a lead when Caglianone allowed four walks in the next inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan chose to go to freshman right-hander Luke McNeillie.

“We made our mind up that if we had gotten in trouble in the sixth, and that’s what happened, then we would go to Luke right away,” O’Sullivan said. 

McNeillie’s second pitch was driven to right field and looked destined to result in a bases-clearing double. Out of nowhere, right fielder Ty Evans fully laid out and made a diving catch to end the inning.

“That was the play of the game,” McNeillie said. “If he didn’t make that, we definitely would’ve lost that game.”

Gators pinch-hitting freshman Hayden Yost hit a slow-rolling, infield single down the third base line to shave Florida’s deficit to one run in the bottom of the sixth, and McNeillie pitched three scoreless innings to set up Caglianone’s walk off, two-run home run in the ninth inning.

Florida resumes play against the Florida A&M Rattlers at 6:30 p.m. April 2 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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