It was a rollercoaster of a first game for Florida in Omaha, but the Gators came out on top against the Virginia Cavaliers, 6-5, and are headed to the winner’s bracket thanks to a walk-off sacrifice fly from Luke Heyman.
The Gators scored five runs across the final three innings, including three in the bottom of the ninth to earn an important win in the opening round of the College World Series. Now Florida plays on Sunday without the threat of elimination staring it in the face.
BT Riopelle was the offensive leader of the day, going 2 for 3 with a two-run home run and double. Wyatt Langford and Ty Evans also homered, while Cade Kurland and Colby Halter each contributed an RBI.
Brandon Sproat lasted 6 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on five hits and three walks. Sproat looked really good through six but broke down as his pitch count elevated in the seventh. Cade Fisher and Brandon Neely pitched in relief.
Below is an inning-by-inning breakdown of the game, including video highlights.
Florida will face Oral Roberts on Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Brandon Sproat came out throwing 99 miles per hour, but Griff O’Ferrall poked the first pitch of the game through the right side for a base hit. Sproat struck out Ethan O’Donnell looking, got Jake Gelof to pop up and was bailed out by BT Riopelle, who caught O’Ferrall trying to take third on a spiked ball that ricocheted off the backstop.
Cade Kurland served as the guinea pig of Florida’s offense, seeing what Virginia starter Nick Tucker had to offer. His 90-mph fastball might seem slow on paper, but it’s an extremely effective pitch with a considerable amount of arm-side run.
Kurland struck out, Wyatt Langford walked and Jac Caglianone and Josh Rivera each lined out hard to center. Caglianone and Rivera both drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd, but neither ball made it to the warning track.
Sproat flashed the curveball early and hit 101 mph to strike out Casey Saucke after and Ethan Anderson ground out. The ‘Hoos designated hitter, Anthony Stephan, singled up the middle, but Sproat got a quick pop out to the right side of the infield that Josh Rivera chased down.
BT Riopelle led off the second inning for Florida on offense. Tucker and Riopelle were roommates at Coastal Carolina as a freshman, so there’s an unusual connection between former batterymates. Riopelle won the first battle, drawing a walk after going down 2-2.
Luke Heyman snuck a grounder past the shortstop, who was just out of range for a Jeter-esque backhand play. Tyler Shelnut lined a ball up the middle, but the second baseman knocked it down to get Heyman at the nearby bag.
Colby Halter drove in the first run of the game on a liner over the leaping shortstop’s glove after drawing the count full, scoring Riopelle.
SCORE: Florida 1, Virginia 0
Richie Schiekofer flew out to left on a 2-0 fastball and Kurland ended the inning with a 6-4 fielder’s choice.
Sproat got two quick ground outs from Harrison Didawick and O’Ferrall, but he hit O’Donnell on a full count to interrupt a 1-2-3 inning. Sproat picked off O’Donnell and Rivera made the tag on a full sprint.
Florida didn’t do much in the third. Langford popped up to second, Caglianone fouled out behind home plate and Josh Rivera lined out to left. Eight pitches, three outs. Not ideal after making Tucker work in the second.
Sproat’s fastball started to slip a bit, and he walked Gelof on five pitches to start the fourth. Josh Rivera gobbled up a ground ball for an easy double play, but Anderson doubled down the left-field line, beating a minor shift. Kevin O’Sullivan took one of his patented “throw strikes or else” meetings, and Saucke grounded out to Halter at third to end the threat.
Riopelle won the battle against his former roommate the second time around, too, lacing a line drive into left-center. Unfortunately, he got doubled up on a Heyman fly out to right field. Saucke made a helluva throw, that should stop others from running on him over the next few days.
Tyler Shelnut singled through the left side and Halter walked before Schiekofer flew out to center to end the inning. Virginia’s shortstop struggled with a few backhand plays. A guy like Rivera turns some of those hits into outs.
After a few shaky innings, Sproat returned to form, striking out the side swinging. Didawick got hit by a pitch, but that blemish was hardly noticed with Sproat locating his changeup efficiently against both sides.
Kurland flew out to right, Langford sent a ball 400 feet to dead center that came up just short of a home run and Caglianone lined out to first base. Another eight-pitch inning for Tucker.
Sproat found his groove in the middle innings. Two more strikes outs, courtesy of a dominant fastball-changeup mix with the curve sprinkled in for flavor. Sproat’s changeup rivals Waldrep’s splitter when it comes to the most devastating offspeed pitch in the nation.
As good as Sproat was, Tucker also stayed dialed in. An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 frame shifted the momentum over to Virginia’s dugout.
With a pitch count approaching 100, Sproat came back out and stayed in through a leadoff walk. Saucke singled, and Stephan tied the game with a ground out to third.
SCORE: Florida 1, Virginia 1
Godbout singled, marking the end of the night for Sproat.
Cade Fisher got the call out of the bullpen and pitched around two bunt attempts from Didawick, who then sent a hard grounder down the third base line. Halter made a nice play on a tricky hop and connected with Riopelle for an out at home, but Fisher wouldn’t be as lucky with the next two batters.
O’Ferrall and O’Donnell each hit safely and drove in runs, bringing in Brandon Neely.
Florida had a chance to get all of the runs back it gave up in the top of the frame, but Rivera grounded the ball back to the pitcher to waste a bases-loaded threat. The Gators did add a run on a Cade Kurland ground out but still trailed by two with six outs to play with.
SCORE: Virginia 4, Florida 2
Dale Thomas and Ty Evans pinch-hit for Halter and Schiekofer, respectively. Both reached — Thomas on a walk and Evans on a double down the right-field line. Langford found the shortstop for an error to keep the inning alive and force a pitching change, but 6-foot-10 Jacob Berry effectively pitched around Caglianone and got Rivera.
Neely returned for Florida in the eighth and set the ‘Hoos down in order, ending it with a strike out on a full count.
Riopelle led off the bottom of the eighth with a home run to left-center that just barely cleared the fence. Berry got Heyman to ground out and Shelnut swinging. Cade Kurland lined out to center field, capping off an 0-for-4 night.
SCORE: Virginia 4, Florida 3
Neely almost made it through the ninth without any trouble, but a leadoff walk came back to bite him when a towering fly ball found it’s way fair deep in the corner of the stadium. Didawick ended up on third with a triple and Saucke scored a crucial insurance run for the ‘Hoos.
SCORE: Virginia 5, Florida 3
O’Ferrall grounded out to shortstop for the third out.
Jake Berry came back out for the ninth after taking over in the seventh, and what a mistake that was.
Ty Evans homered to left, putting Florida within one, and Wyatt Langford demolished a ball 456 feet to tie the game.
Jac Caglianone singled into right-center on a missile through the shift, Josh Rivera walked and Riopelle took a ball to the middle of the back. Bases loaded.
WALK OFF, BABY!!!!
Luke Heyman got ahead in the count against Jay Woolfolk, 2-0, and sent a rocket to center field for a walk-off win. O’Donnell didn’t even try to make a play at home as Caglianone ran in.
National championship teams win games like this. Florida has what it takes.
FINAL: Florida 6, Virginia 5
Source: Yahoo Sports