The first three innings of Saturday morning’s SEC Tournament elimination game between Florida and Alabama saw the two offenses take turns bashing the ball all around Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
UF jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, only for Alabama to tie the game up with four runs of their own in the bottom half. The Gators scored in each of the next two innings, but the Crimson Tide tied the game with a long home run in the bottom of the third.
Then, Gators third-year freshman reliever Nick Ficarrotta took over on the mound, and Alabama didn’t score again. He tossed a career-high 6 1/3 scoreless innings with just five hits allowed. He walked only two and struck out a career-high-tying six batters. He threw 97 pitches, 64 of them for strikes.
Ficarrotta’s dominant outing, along with a combined five hits, three home runs and six RBI by Wyatt Langford and Mac Guscette, powered the Gators past Alabama, 11-6. No. 7 seed Florida will take on No. 2 seed Texas A&M in the single-elimination semifinal round later on Saturday.
Jac Caglianone went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Josh Rivera went 2-for-5 with three RBI.
Langford led off the game with a bang, smashing a 1-1 fastball from Alabama starter Garrett McMillan well past the left-field wall for his SEC-leading 22nd homer of the year.
A walk and a hit batter put two runners on with two outs, and Caglianone lined a pitch into the right-field corner to drive in a run. Two pitches later, Rivera lined a ball into left field to make it 4-0.
Freshman righty Anthony Ursitti made his first career start for UF, and things didn’t go well for him at all. He fell behind leadoff hitter Caden Rose 2-0 and then gave up a hard-hit double into the left-field corner. Two batters later, Dominic Tamez drove Rose in with a single back up the middle.
Ursitti walked Drew Williamson. With two outs, he grooved a 2-1 fastball to Zane Denton, who smashed it over the wall in right-center field to tie the game.
Langford opened the second inning the same way that he did the first – with a towering home run. This one came on a breaking ball and cleared the left-center fence.
Ursitti momentarily settled down in a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning, and Langford picked up his third RBI in as many innings with a groundout in the top of the third against reliever Jake Leger to make it a 6-4 Gators lead.
Once again, that momentum didn’t last long. William Hamiter led off the bottom of the inning with a single to right. Two batters later, Williamson launched a pitch over the wall in straightaway center to tie the game at six.
Ursitti plunked Denton with a pitch with two outs, which marked the end of his day and the beginning of a career day for Ficarrotta.
Ficarrotta gave up a first-pitch single to Jim Jarvis but got out of the inning by getting Tommy Seidl to fly out.
Leger and Ficarrotta both settled the game down after the rapid start. Leger kept the Gators off of the scoreboard in the fourth and fifth innings, and Ficarrotta gave up just one hit during the bottom of those frames.
Florida (38-21) eventually found a way to scratch across a run and take the lead in the sixth. Leger walked Langford to lead off the inning, and Sterlin Thompson lined a single just over the second baseman’s glove and into right-center field to put runners on the corners.
BT Riopelle hit a sharp groundball that deflected off of Leger and right to the shortstop Jarvis. Jarvis stepped on second for one out and then threw Riopelle out at first for a double play, but Langford crossed home plate during the process.
The Crimson Tide (31-27) put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning. Bryce Eblin doubled off of the right-field wall, and Rose reached on a chopper that couldn’t have traveled more than 10 feet or so from home plate. Ficarrotta got Hamiter to pop out to Riopelle at first to end the threat.
The Gators had a chance to pad their lead in the seventh, but they didn’t take advantage of it. Dylan Ray hit Jud Fabian with a pitch to lead off, and Caglianone doubled into the right-field corner.
With their NCAA Tournament aspirations possibly hanging by a thread, Alabama brought in the infield with Rivera due up.
The move worked, as Rivera hit a chopper to third. Denton threw Rivera out, and Fabian stayed at third. Ray then struck out Guscette and got Colby Halter to fly out to left to hang a zero.
For a moment, it felt like UF’s inability to add insurance runs was going to be costly.
As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. A Fabian walk and a Caglianone single put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth. Rivera got ahead in the count 3-1 and hit a high chopper to short. Jarvis threw the ball home, but the umpire ruled that Fabian’s foot just snuck into home before Tamez applied the tag.
The Crimson Tide then brought in one of their top relievers in lefty Antoine Jean. Jean threw a first-pitch breaking ball that hung over the middle part of the plate. Guscette made up for his strikeout two innings earlier by belting a no-doubter over the left-field wall for his fourth homer of the year.
Alabama put a couple of runners on base in the bottom of the inning, but Ficarrotta ended the game with a strikeout of Andrew Pinckney.
The game probably wasn’t as cleanly played as the Gators had hoped for, but they’re now just one win away from playing for a championship on Sunday.