Gators clinch SEC East after taming Wildcats in series opener

No.4 Florida wins the SEC East following a commanding 10-3 victory over the Wildcats in the series opener.

The Gators (41-12, 19-9 SEC) picked up their 41st win of the 2023 season on Thursday night, tying the 2018 campaign for the second-most regular-season wins in program history.

Florida got off to a quick start inside Kentucky Proud Park, scoring two runs just three batters into the game after back-to-back RBI base knocks from Wyatt Langford and Jac Caglianone.

Hurston Waldrep, who got the Thursday night start following his quick outing last weekend (weather delay), allowed a run in both the third and fourth inning, erasing Florida’s early 2-0 lead over the Wildcats.

After four straight innings of no hits from the Gators’ offense, Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad broke through by plating five runs in the bottom of the sixth, extending Florida’s lead to 7-2. Wyatt Langford recorded his second RBI double of the game, scoring Kurland from second base once again. Langford finished with three hits, three runs, and two RBIs, all while making his presence felt defensively. Langford notched his seventh three-hit games of the season, tying Caglianone for the team lead.

BT Riopelle got in on the action following an RBI single from Josh Rivera, doubling down the left field line, bringing home Rivera and Caglianone in the process.

Freshman designated hitter Luke Heyman polished off the inning by singling to left field, scoring Riopelle from third base. Heyman’s base knock marks one of two hits recorded from the bottom four batters in Florida’s order (Deric Fabian). The 6,7,8, and 9-hole hitters went 2-18 at the plate with eight strikeouts in the contest.

The Wildcats (25-16, 15-13 SEC) scored their final run of the game following a solo home run off the bat of shortstop Grant Smith in the bottom half of the sixth.

Waldrep’s outing wasn’t necessarily a smooth ride, but the right hander provided a quality start for the Gators, tossing six innings of three run baseball (two earned). Gutsy would be the word I would use to describe Waldrep’s night on the mound. The Thomasville, Georgia native got the big-time outs when he needed them most, recording six strikeouts in the process. After running into some trouble in the middle innings, Waldrep settled down and cruised to his sixth quality start of the season.

“Hurston pitched really good,” Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said postgame. “If he can get three runs or less with six innings, you’ll take it. He only gave up two earned runs.”

The Gators found three more insurance runs one inning later as Josh Rivera picked up his second RBI of the night on a ground out to first and BT Riopelle notched his third and fourth RBI of the game on a single through the middle, giving Florida a 10-3 lead.

Ryan Slater pitched the remaining three innings of the game, allowing no runs on three hits while striking out three. Slater did throw 44 pitches, which means he’ll likely be available for an inning or two on Saturday.

Florida’s leadoff hitter Cade Kurland reached base four times in the contest, recording his sixth three hit game of the year while scoring three runs.

“He’s been swinging the bat really good,” Kevin O’Sullivan said on Kurland’s performance. “He uses the whole field. He hit a double to left-center gap, hit the ball the other way tonight. He’s done a real nice job. He started the game with a leadoff walk. He’s done a really nice job for us. It gives us a chance to get Wyatt (Langford), Jac (Caglianone), Josh (Rivera) and BT (Riopelle) to the plate. He’s had a really good last four games for sure.”

The Gators scored 10 runs on 13 hits against a Kentucky pitching staff that ranks 22nd in division one baseball.

“We swung the bats well offensively,” O’Sullivan said. “We got off to a good start. Their pitcher did a real nice job of throwing the ball in the low part of the zone. We beat a lot of balls into the turf from the second through the fifth. We did a real nice job. They’re really tough to beat at home.”

No.4 Florida clinched a top-two seed at the SEC Tournament in Hoover following Thursday night’s victory.






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.