Dominant relief pitching and the long ball, Gators take game one at Miami

No.4 Florida defeated Miami 7-3 on Friday night behind a trio of home runs and superior relief pitching. Florida continued their dominance over the Canes under Kevin O’Sullivan, improving to 40-17 vs. Miami featuring a 17-8 road mark since O’Sullivan took over the Gators’ program in 2008.

Luke Heyman, Cade Kurland, and Jac Caglianone went yard in the contest while RHP Ryan Slater delivered 3.1 scoreless frames of relief, retiring ten straight batters in the middle innings of the contest.

The turning point

Florida and Miami went back and forth in the early innings of this game, but the turning point came in the top of the 7th when the Gators led by just one run. With one out and nobody on in the frame, Cade Kurland sent a laser over the left field wall, holding an exit velo of 110 MPH. The very next batter was Jac Caglianone, who smacked an opposite field home run over the scoreboard in left field, traveling an estimated 390 feet. The back-to-back home runs gave Florida a 6-3 lead, which seemed like a fairly comfortable margin with the red-hot Ryan Slater on the mound. This gave Florida all the momentum with just nine outs left to record.

MVP: Ryan Slater

Middle reliver Ryan Slater entered the contest in the 5th inning with two on and two outs. After plunking the first batter he faces and walking home a run on his next, Slater retired ten straight Miami batters, stopping the Canes’ momentum right in its tracks. Slater tossed 3.1 scoreless innings of relief (one run he allowed was credited to Fisher), allowing no hits and striking out four. Slater was credited with the win in the contest.

“Obviously Slater came in in a tough spot and did a nice job to get out of it, even though he walked a run in. He did good the next three innings,” O’Sullivan said postgame.

On the season, Slater has tossed a team high 13.1 innings while allowing just one run on six hits and four walks. The Palm Harbor, Florida native is going to play a critical middle relief role for the Gators this season, helping to bridge the gap from the weekend rotation to the closer (Brandon Neely). He did exactly that tonight.

“I can’t tell you how important it is, to have that settle down and be able to get to the point where you can bring in Neely,” O’Sullivan said postgame. “I mean, it’s really, really important. Everybody wants to talk about the starters and the closer, but a guy like him, I can’t express how important his role is. And for him to do this on Friday night, down here, it was still a tight ball game, it was a one run game…just to settle things down, it’s a really, really, really important role.”

Miami failed to make routine plays defensively 

Miami was only stuck with one error in the contest, but the Canes’ defense wasn’t making it easy for their pitching staff on Friday night. The Gators’ first run was unearned after Miami shortstop botched a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Luke Heyman, which scored Cade Kurland from second base.

The next Gators’ run could have been easily avoided as well after Armando Albert grounded into a fielders choice to first base. Miami’s first baseman Jason Torres fielded the grounder and fired the ball home, the only problem was the throw was wide right, causing the catcher to reach all the way around the plate in an effort to tag the sliding Ty Evans. Even with the throw being off-line, the ball beat Evans to the plate by two or three steps, but a slick slide from the junior outfielder allowed him to reach home plate safely.

In the 9th inning with runners on 1st and 2nd base and nobody out, Luke Heyman grounds one to the pitcher for what should have been an easy double play, given Heyman’s lack of speed. Instead, the pitchers throw to second base was off-line, allowing Heyman to reach first base on a fielders choice. Colby Shelton would later record a sac-fly, bringing home Florida’s 7th and final run.

Miami’s defense struggled to make the routine plays on Friday night, and Florida capitalized.

Welcome back Cade Kurland

After missing four straight games with a hand bruise, leadoff hitter Cade Kurland appeared in his first game since Friday, February 23rd against Columbia. Kurland tallied three hits and three runs including a home run vs Miami, continuing to impress as Florida’s main leadoff man.

“He had a really good night at the plate,” O’Sullivan said postgame. “It wasn’t really a decision that we made until after batting practice, just to make sure he was alright. We don’t want to put him in the lineup if he doesn’t feel like he can go. Three hits. Jac behind him with three hits. They certainly had really good nights at the plate.”

UP NEXT: Florida will look to take the series in game two on Saturday at 3:00 PM on ACC Network.







Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.