Gators dominate Missouri in series opener

It’s hard to find much fault with the way that the Gators played against Missouri on Friday night at Taylor Stadium.

Their offense pounded out 10 hits, with eight different players responsible for at least one of them. Four of those hits sailed over the right-center field wall for home runs, which tied for their second-most long balls in an SEC game this season.

On the mound, starter Brandon Sproat and reliever Anthony Ursitti combined to give up just three hits, strike out 10 Tigers and keep the rest of the pitching staff fresh for the remainder of the weekend.

They played errorless defense and turned a snazzy line-drive double play.

The all-around dominance led to blowout 13-1 victory for the Gators in the series opener. UF (31-18, 12-13 SEC) has now won six games in a row, including four straight league games.

“I thought this was probably the most complete game we’ve played all year long,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Really good defense, starting pitching was outstanding, relief pitching was great, and we swung the bats really well. It was really good to get some help from Josh [Rivera] and from Colby [Halter] early on in the game. Both of those guys hit home runs.

“It was just a really complete game. So, obviously, pleased with how we played, and, hopefully, this will help us with some momentum going into [Saturday].”

Missouri (25-21, 7-18) actually led the game after the first inning. Trevor Austin crushed a full-count fastball from Sproat over the left-center field fence to score what turned out to be his team’s only run.

After stranding two runners in the top of the first, Florida’s offense erupted in the second. They scored in five consecutive innings. They scored multiple runs in four of those five innings to blow the game wide open.

Ty Evans got the explosion started by hitting a line drive into the right-center gap and just beating the throw to second for a one-out double against Tigers starter Tony Neubeck. With two outs, Halter lined a pitch over the wall for a two-run shot that gave the Gators the lead for good. It marked his first homer since March 22.

“Unfortunately in this game, there’s going to be good streaks, and there’s going to be bad streaks,” O’Sullivan said. “But the one thing [Halter’s] never done is put his head down. He continues to work hard every day. We’ve asked him to move over to third base, and he’s played a really good third base for us. He’s a baseball player, and I’m glad he’s on our team because I love the way he plays, and, obviously, tonight was a good night for him offensively.”

BT Riopelle led off the third by lining Neubeck’s first pitch into right field for a single. Rivera followed by slapping a 1-1 pitch the opposite way for his seventh homer of the year to make it 4-1 and end Neubeck’s night very prematurely.

Reliever Austin Marozas got the final three outs to end the inning without further damage, but his prosperity was short-lived. A well-struck single up the middle by Wyatt Langford, a walk to Sterlin Thompson and a bunt single by Jud Fabian loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth.

Marozas fell behind Riopelle 2-0 before Riopelle smashed a ball toward second baseman Justin Colon. Colon couldn’t field the ball on the short hop, which allowed two runs to score and Fabian to advance to third with still no outs.

Rivera followed by hitting a high chopper to third that easily scored Fabian. Luke Mann fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first pulled Torin Montgomery off of the bag and allowed Rivera to be safe.

Marozas stayed poised despite the defensive shortcomings and set down the next three Gators to prevent any more runs from scoring in the inning.

The Gators plated five more runs in the fifth to make it a 12-1 game. Marozas plunked Halter with a pitch and walked Langford to open the frame. Thompson scored Halter with a double to right.

Jacob Kush entered out of the bullpen and couldn’t put out the fire. Fabian drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right, and Riopelle lined a single through the drawn-in infield to pick up an RBI.

Jac Caglianone capped the inning with the biggest highlight of the night. Kush threw him an 0-1 fastball near the top of the strike zone. The ball left Caglianone’s bat at 112 miles per hour and traveled an estimated 480 feet before landing on the roof of Missouri’s indoor football practice facility beyond the right-center field wall.

Langford added the final run of the game by hitting his 17th home run of the year in the sixth.

Meanwhile, Sproat was nearly flawless after giving up the first-inning home run. He didn’t give up a hit over the next four innings and retired 11 straight batters at one point. He exited the game with two outs in the seventh. He gave up just three hits and struck out seven in a career-long 6 2/3 innings.

“He was really efficient,” O’Sullivan said. “Other than the home run he gave up to the second hitter of the game, he pitched really good again. I wanted to keep his pitch count right about 90 because it’s going to be a short week coming back on one day’s shorter rest. He was outstanding.”

Ursitti struck out three Tigers in his 2 1/3 innings and didn’t give up a hit.

Game one couldn’t have gone any better for the Gators, but they haven’t accomplished what they set out to do yet. Their goal is to win the series, and Saturday is a whole new day. It wouldn’t matter if they won the opener 13-1 or 2-1. Games two and three are their own separate entities, and O’Sullivan is looking for his team to keep its foot on the throttle.

“Unfortunately, you can’t take any of these runs into [Saturday],” O’Sullivan said. “So, it’s going to be a clean slate [on Saturday]. It’s going to be senior day for them, so they’re going to be excited to play for their seniors. This was a great game for us. We played really well, but, certainly, it has no bearing on [Saturday’s] outcome.”

Ethan Hughes
Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and also wrote for for two years before joining Gator Country in 2021. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter @ethanhughes97.