Gator baseball gets revenge on Miami, major boost with series win

Gator baseball
Photo credit: Florida Gators

A few things are known to just be “the way things are” for Gator baseball.

Deep pitching staffs. Competing for SEC Titles. College World Series runs. Beating the Miami Hurricanes.

Those things didn’t happen for Gator baseball in 2021, though. It was an overall disappointing season for a supremely talented team. It started with a mystifying series loss to the Hurricanes to open the new Florida Ballpark, and it all came to an end with the single most embarrassing loss in school history- a 19-1 thermonuclear bombing at the hands of little South Alabama to end their season in the NCAA Tournament.

A regular season series win over Miami won’t erase the taste from the end of that season. But it sure will make the Gators feel better- not just about that series loss to the Hurricanes last year, but about what they can do this year.

After losing the series opener to the Canes in Coral Gables 5-2, Florida’s bats came alive and pounded out nineteen runs in the next two games. Meanwhile, the pitching staff did its job against a dangerous Miami lineup. The result? Wins of 8-1 and 11-3 on Saturday and Sunday to take the series and return bragging rights of this series to Gainesville.

The Gators’ dominance in this rivalry has just been staggering. Florida has now won 36 out of the last 47 games against the Hurricanes. Included in those numbers are 15 wins of five runs or more, four shutouts, 11 series victories out of the last 13, and Florida’s sweeps of Miami from the 2009 Regional, the 2010 Super Regional, the 2011 Regional, and the 2015 College World Series- the latter of which came via scores of 15-3 and 10-2.

Perhaps even more impressive than the sheer volume of dominance, though, was the way that Florida reclaimed its bragging rights.

The Gators didn’t let Sunday’s game become quite that suspenseful. After Halter singled to start the game, Jud Fabian doubled him home, which was followed by Sterlin Thompson singling him home. A few batters later, Josh Rivera scored him with a sac fly to make it 3-0. The Gators would then manufacture another run in the third to make it 4-0.

Meanwhile, Timmy Manning was doing his job on the mound. Miami could only generate three hits and one run off him in 4.1 innings. After a leadoff strikeout in the fifth, though, Manning walked back to back batters, at which point O’Sullivan quickly went to freshman reliever Blake Purnell, fresh off of two innings of shutout ball in relief of Barco on Friday. The rookie did even better on Sunday, quickly extinguishing that fifth-inning threat to begin 3.2 more innings of shutout ball.

Then, for the second straight day, Florida’s offense came alive late and put the game out of reach. Calilao made it 5-1 with his second homer of the weekend in the sixth, and moments later Wyatt Langford doubled home both Fabian brothers to make it 7-1. Florida tacked on one more in the eighth and three more in the ninth, Miami took advantage of some wildness by young reliever Philip Abner to get two meaningless runs, and then Ryan Slater slammed the door shut.

Now, this Gator baseball team finds itself ranked #11 in the country with a pretty manageable week up ahead. A pair of games against Jacksonville on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by a three game series against a pitiful 0-9 Seton Hall team should mean another winning week for the Gators, if not five consecutive victories to pad their record. After that, FSU comes to town, and then SEC play begins with a road series at Alabama.

At this juncture last year, in the aftermath of the Miami series, there were more questions than answers. This year, there are still questions- namely about the depth of Florida’s bullpen, and if Florida is that good or Miami is that bad- but there’s evidence suggesting the Gators are better suited for more consistent success this season.

Florida’s offense is coming alive more games than not; in six out of the last seven games, Florida has scored eight runs or more, and in five of those games, they’ve scored 11 or more. Sure, bad pitching from opponents has helped with that, but the Gators look more confident and more disciplined at the plate now than they did a season ago, or even against Liberty in the season-opening series.

There are also some real answers as to what Florida has behind Hunter Barco now in its weekend pitching rotation. We knew Barco was good, but that’s only going to be helpful for one game a week; we didn’t know if the entire season was going to be a patchwork effort with the Saturday and Sunday games, or even just bullpen games. We still can’t say if Timmy Manning, Blake Purnell, Nic Ficarrotta or Brandon Sproat are going to be dependable options either in starting roles or as relievers, but we do know that they’re capable of doing so because they did it once in a tense road environment against a ranked rival.

And now, as we always have to do with baseball, we’re forced to sit back, watch as more results continue to roll in, and let the season play itself out before we can start to make any real predictions as to where this team might end up. But at the very least, we now have real reason to believe in this year’s Gator baseball team- reason based on logic, and data, as opposed to blind hope.

Early on, it seemed that the Gators’ Friday night starter was set (Hunter Barco) and the latter two pieces of the rotation would be an adventure. Kevin O’Sullivan had plenty of talented arms to choose from, but the opening series against Liberty in particular raised eyebrows about just how trustworthy any of those talented arms would be. And Florida’s bats gave off the impression that they could be deadly when they were on, but were also too inconsistent to be trusted. So when Barco pitched fine (albeit not great) on Friday night and yet took the loss because the bats went dead, Florida appeared to be in serious trouble in terms of winning the series.

But then things started happening that bode really, really well for this Gator baseball team.

Colby Halter led off Saturday’s game with a booming double off the wall, and scored moments later on a wild-pitch-and-throwing-error combination to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Jud Fabian launched an unguided missile over the left field wall to make it 3-0 Gators.

Then the bats cooled off, and the game turned into a pitcher’s duel. Luckily, starter Brandon Sproat and reliever Nic Ficarrotta were more than up for the challenge. They tag-teamed to allow just six hits, two walks and one run throughout the course of the evening. Heading into the ninth, Florida held a slim 3-1 lead.

That’s when Florida’s offense put the game away. Newcomer BT Riopelle gave Florida a key insurance run with an RBI single in the ninth, Josh Rivera added another one on a run-producing fielder’s choice, and then Kendrick Calilao blew the whole thing open with a three run bomb. In the blink of an eye, the score had gone from 3-1 to 8-1. Miami could do nothing in its last chance in the bottom of the ninth, and Florida had evened the series.

The Gators didn’t let Sunday’s game become quite that suspenseful. After Halter singled to start the game, Jud Fabian doubled him home, which was followed by Sterlin Thompson singling him home. A few batters later, Josh Rivera scored him with a sac fly to make it 3-0. The Gators would then manufacture another run in the third to make it 4-0.

Meanwhile, Timmy Manning was doing his job on the mound. Miami could only generate three hits and one run off him in 4.1 innings. After a leadoff strikeout in the fifth, though, Manning walked back to back batters, at which point O’Sullivan quickly went to freshman reliever Blake Purnell, fresh off of two innings of shutout ball in relief of Barco on Friday. The rookie did even better on Sunday, quickly extinguishing that fifth-inning threat to begin 3.2 more innings of shutout ball.

Then, for the second straight day, Florida’s offense came alive late and put the game out of reach. Calilao made it 5-1 with his second homer of the weekend in the sixth, and moments later Wyatt Langford doubled home both Fabian brothers to make it 7-1. Florida tacked on one more in the eighth and three more in the ninth, Miami took advantage of some wildness by young reliever Philip Abner to get two meaningless runs, and then Ryan Slater slammed the door shut.

Now, this Gator baseball team finds itself ranked #11 in the country with a pretty manageable week up ahead. A pair of games against Jacksonville on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by a three game series against a pitiful 0-9 Seton Hall team should mean another winning week for the Gators, if not five consecutive victories to pad their record. After that, FSU comes to town, and then SEC play begins with a road series at Alabama.

At this juncture last year, in the aftermath of the Miami series, there were more questions than answers. This year, there are still questions- namely about the depth of Florida’s bullpen, and if Florida is that good or Miami is that bad- but there’s evidence suggesting the Gators are better suited for more consistent success this season.

Florida’s offense is coming alive more games than not; in six out of the last seven games, Florida has scored eight runs or more, and in five of those games, they’ve scored 11 or more. Sure, bad pitching from opponents has helped with that, but the Gators look more confident and more disciplined at the plate now than they did a season ago, or even against Liberty in the season-opening series.

There are also some real answers as to what Florida has behind Hunter Barco now in its weekend pitching rotation. We knew Barco was good, but that’s only going to be helpful for one game a week; we didn’t know if the entire season was going to be a patchwork effort with the Saturday and Sunday games, or even just bullpen games. We still can’t say if Timmy Manning, Blake Purnell, Nic Ficarrotta or Brandon Sproat are going to be dependable options either in starting roles or as relievers, but we do know that they’re capable of doing so because they did it once in a tense road environment against a ranked rival.

And now, as we always have to do with baseball, we’re forced to sit back, watch as more results continue to roll in, and let the season play itself out before we can start to make any real predictions as to where this team might end up. But at the very least, we now have real reason to believe in this year’s Gator baseball team- reason based on logic, and data, as opposed to blind hope.