Sucks To Be U: Josh Rivera lets Miami know which way their baseball team is headed whenever it plays Florida. (Photo credit: Florida Gator baseball.)
Even on “305 day,” the Florida Gators still owned the Miami Hurricanes. More specifically, Kevin O’Sullivan owns the Miami Hurricanes.
And after the Gator baseball team’s latest iteration of dominance of its rivals to the south, little doubt was left about which baseball program runs the state of Florida.
Florida started the weekend with a dominant 10-4 victory behind the efforts of Brandon Sproat. The Canes made things interesting by winning game two on Saturday, 14-6, but the Gators bounced back with a 14-4 mercy-rule win on Sunday featuring a walk-off bomb from Ty Evans to clinch the double-digit run differential threshold- and the series.
It was what many could expect from a rivalry series. There were torrential comebacks, scary and nail-biting moments, and much tension between both dugouts all weekend. But the most important fact you can take out of this series is the Florida Gators secured a massive series win over their rival Miami at Condron Family Ballpark.
Over the span of three games, the Gators put together 30 runs and launched 10 home runs while also facing some sort of adversity in all three games.
In game one, the adversity came in the form of being down 3-0 to start the game after a Yohandy Morales homer and some mocking Gator Chomps from the Canes’ dugout. But the Gators then followed by outscoring Miami 10-1 to finish out the win. Along the way, Rutgers transfer Richie Schiekoefer, true freshman Cade Kurland, and SEC Player Of The Year favorite Wyatt Langford all deposited baseballs beyond the outfield walls for home runs.
Whereas in game one, the Gators overcame adversity, they couldn’t repeat the feat on Saturday. After holding a 6-1 lead after five innings, with four of those runs coming off the bat of two Jac Cagalianone home runs, the bullpen imploded for the second time in the week (Florida’s bullpen also blew a three-run lead to Jacksonville). To put a long story short, Florida relievers gave up nine runs in less than three innings, and 13 runs in the final four innings. Florida also wasted a bases loaded, no outs opportunity with a double play and a vicious line drive off the bat of BT Riopelle… right back at the pitcher’s glove.
Such a turn of events could have punctured the Gators’ spirits, and relegated them to a deflated state of mind where they went through the motions on Sunday. But that’s not how great teams respond to getting punched in the mouth. And that’s not how Florida responded.
The Gators didn’t let that Saturday game deflate them. Florida expressed its displeasure about the prior evening’s late-game offensive failures with an early Sunday explosion that blew the roof off the game and knocked the Canes down for the count.
Four consecutive two-out singles off the bats controlled by Deric Fabian, Michael Robertson, Ty Evans, and BT Riopelle plated four Florida runs in a first inning on Sunday that saw the Gator baseball team bat around in the frame. Florida then replicated that four-spot in the first with another in the second- this one coming on one beautiful BT Riopelle swing. Grand slam. 8-0 Gators, just like that, in the second inning. Florida tacked on another in the third to make it 9-0, seemingly putting the game out of reach.
To their credit, the Canes didn’t quit. There was a mini Miami threat in the 8th as the Canes put up three runs to draw within 9-4, and appeared poised to put up more. But with runners on second and third and one out, shortstop Josh Rivera made a leaping grab on a line drive over his head, and then tossed the ball back to second for an inning-ending double play to stop the threat.
Smelling blood, Florida then went for the kill.
Wyatt Langford (a two-run job) and Josh Rivera (a solo shot) smacked back-to-back homers to put Florida up 12-4. Moments later, Ty Evans crushed a mistake pitch for a two-run job to put Florida up 14-4 and trigger the mercy rule.
Evans’ trip around the bases embodied all the feelings both sides have for each other. A bat flip and a throat slash were completed before he reached first base. Evans managed to keep a businesslike approach from first base to third base, but as he rounded third, he blew a series of kisses goodbye to the visiting Hurricanes. For a finale, Evans held up the Hurricanes’ famed “U” symbol above his head, and smashed it over his knee as he crossed home plate.
And the Gator baseball team gets to do all that. They’ve earned that right.
After this series win, Florida has now won 38 of the last 49 games vs. the Hurricanes, and 13 of the last 15 season series. Included in those tallies are several instances of the Gators ending the Hurricanes’ season: the 2009 Gainesville Regional, the 2010 Gainesville Super Regional, the 2011 Gainesville Regional, and the 2015 College World Series.
Florida is also drawing closer to catching Miami in the all-time series. What was a lead of nearly 30 games when Kevin O’Sullivan arrived has been trimmed down to just two. Miami currently leads Florida 134-132 in that column.
More important than all that, though, was that this Gator baseball team again showed just what it’s capable of.
After this weekend’s series win, Florida now ranks first in all of college baseball- which consists of 295 teams- in hits (164), home runs (35), and slugging percentage (.671%). The Gators also boast the nation’s fifth best team batting average (.350). The bullpen is a concern, but it’s still early- and to be fair to them, the Hurricanes do rank in the top 30 in the nation in hits, homers, and slugging percentage. On top of that, Brandon Sproat and Hursten Waldrep weren’t perfect in their starts, but pitched more than well enough to win on Friday and Saturday before Jac Caglianone buzz-sawed the Canes with a terrific start on Sunday.
So suffice to say that, although every game may not have been perfect, the Gators are showing how dominant their offense really is, and while the bullpen is a concern, it’s early enough and there’s been enough promise from the starters to justify belief that it could improve drastically as the season progresses. And now that they’ve finally played a team worthwhile, it’s officially fair to say that fans of SEC teams better watch out, because a Florida home run may be landing in your backyard one day soon.