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Monday, May 20, 2024

Pierce Coppola makes his return, not enough for Gators baseball in loss to Gamecocks

Florida lost its sixth-straight game

Florida baseball head coach Kevin O' Sullivan takes the ball from Brandon Neely in the team's loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday, April 12, 2024.
Florida baseball head coach Kevin O' Sullivan takes the ball from Brandon Neely in the team's loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday, April 12, 2024.

In a sport as dramatic as baseball, there are times where some stories are seemingly too-good-to-be-true, as if they’re presented on a silver platter. 

For example, on April 1, when Gators two-way player Jac Caglianone, a slugger who’s been the heart and soul for Florida all season long, came to the plate trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth against Mississippi State with a runner on first.

It felt too fitting. And, of course, the star player hit a walk-off, two-run home run to win the series.

Saturday presented another seeming classic. 

Gators left-handed pitcher Pierce Coppola made his first appearance after being sidelined for more than two years. After making just one appearance in his freshman season in 2022, Coppola suffered two major injuries and setbacks in his recovery process.

He made his second-ever start on Saturday.

But, it lasted just four outs.

The No. 24 Florida Gators (17-17, 6-8 SEC) lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks (25-10, 8-6 SEC) 9-8 Saturday. Despite a four-run eighth inning rally, Florida lost its sixth game in a row for the first time since March 1, 2013.

Coppola didn’t look pleased with himself walking off the mound. He was frustrated with his outing, and rightfully so. However, his presence was encouraging enough despite the undesirable performance.

“I truly believe that good things are going to happen to him,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He’s worked so hard to get back. So it was good.”

Coppola’s fastball hovered around 92-93 mph and he struck out three of the nine batters he faced. 

“Just to see him healthy out there was encouraging,” O’Sullivan said. “He’ll be better the next time out, I would expect. And he’ll continue to get better and better and better as we go along.”

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The left-hander always had high expectations since he committed to Florida in September 2020.

Coppola is a 6-foot-8 southpaw from Verona, New Jersey, and was ranked as the No. 9 left-handed pitcher and No. 50 overall player in Perfect Game’s 2021 class. 

He immediately earned a role as the Gators’ Sunday starter despite his youth. However, Coppola lasted just one outing after being sidelined the remainder of the year due to a bulging disc, requiring season-ending surgery.

In his one appearance against Liberty, the southpaw tossed 4 ⅓ scoreless innings with seven strikeouts.

After making a full recovery during the offseason, it was expected he would play a role in Florida’s weekend rotation in 2023. But, Coppola underwent another season-ending surgery due to a shoulder injury he suffered during the preseason.

Despite an unencouraging outcome in his short outing, Coppola’s presence could be the needed change for Florida’s rotation the rest of the season. The Gators rotation entered Saturday with a 6.48 ERA, the worst in the SEC.

The only saving grace in Florida’s rotation has been its Sunday ace, Caglianone. The southpaw is 3-0 with a 3.67 ERA and .183 batting average against.

In Saturday’s game, the Gators’ rotation looked good at times but had several mental lapses according to O’Sullivan.

“A lot of [our issues] has come down to pitching,” he said.

O’Sullivan went on to list several occurrences throughout the game where mistakes were committed.

“We missed two fastballs on the inner half of the plate, out over the plate to Messina and Petry that led to three runs,” he said. “We had an 0-2 count to start one of the innings and ended up walking him… We walked another run in tonight with the bases loaded. We hit LeCroy with a two-strike slider.”

O’Sullivan said he didn’t want to get any further in-depth but wanted to make one thing clear.

“When you start adding all this stuff up, it’s the difference between winning and losing one-run games,” O’Sullivan said.

The 17-year Gators head coach wasn’t wrong. Florida lost by one run when it nearly came back trailing 9-4 in the eighth inning.

The Gators scored four runs, and the rally ended when Caglianone and UF shortstop Colby Shelton tallied the final outs of the inning.

The game eventually ended when sophomore outfielder Michael Robertson grounded out with two runners on base in the ninth inning. Florida lost its first home series since it was swept by Tennessee in 2022.

The Gators will return to action for the final game of the series against South Carolina at noon Sunday 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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