Gators’ offense goes cold in loss to Missouri

After cranking four home runs and scoring 13 runs in the series opener on Friday, UF’s offense cooled down considerably in Saturday’s game two.

The top of the order was highly productive, as Wyatt Langford, Sterlin Thompson and BT Riopelle went a combined 7-for-11. However, the five through nine batters were complete non-factors, going 1-for-15 with four strikeouts.

The lack of lineup depth caused the Gators to hit just 3-for-17 with runners on base and 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They stranded nine runners on base and failed to score past the fifth inning.

On the other side, UF’s six pitchers enjoyed a pretty good game as well, as they limited the Tigers to just one run in seven innings. Unfortunately for them, starter Brandon Neely hung a breaking ball to Torin Montgomery in the fifth inning. Montgomery belted it over the left-center field wall for a three-run homer that proved to be the difference in the game.

Missouri defeated Florida, 5-3, to even the series and end the Gators’ six game winning streak. The Tigers’ win also snapped their 16-game losing streak to Florida.

“Their starter, [Spencer Miles], was good today,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He threw two different fastballs – a fastball up, and he had a sinker. Just beating our bats for most of the day, and their defense played really good, but he threw really good, so credit him.”

Montgomery was a thorn in the Gators’ side all afternoon, going 3-for-5. Luke Mann, Trevor Austin and Josh Day all chipped in two of their team’s 12 hits.

Miles was credited with the win after giving up three runs on six hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out four. Ian Lohse earned the save by giving up just two hits in three scoreless innings.

Florida (31-19, 12-14 SEC) opened the scoring quickly in the first inning. Langford lined Miles’ first pitch up the middle for a single, and Thompson followed by drawing a walk. Two batters later, Riopelle singled through the right side to score Langford easily.

The Gators added another run in the third when Thompson and Riopelle both doubled, with Riopelle’s coming to straightaway center field with two outs and a 2-2 count.

Neely made it through the first three innings unscathed, but he played with fire a bit as he allowed two Tigers to reach base in the second and fell behind a handful of batters.

Eventually, the Tigers (26-21, 8-18) made him pay for his wildness. With a runner on first and two outs in the fourth, Mike Coletta lofted a fly ball toward the line in right field. Right fielder Ty Evans sprinted for the ball but came up just a bit short. The ball bounced off of the edge of his glove in fair territory for an RBI double that cut the lead to 2-1.

UF got that run back in the following half inning, as Riopelle drove in his third run of the game with a shallow fly ball to center field. Langford tagged up from third and just beat the throw to the plate.

Then came the turning point of the game in the bottom of the fifth. Mann and Austin led off with singles. With one out, Neely fell behind Montgomery 2-1. As was the case throughout the day, his slider was up in the zone, and Montgomery didn’t miss it.

Just like that, what felt like a comfortable 3-1 lead turned into a 4-3 deficit.

“He was falling behind a lot today, and he didn’t have his breaking ball,” O’Sullivan said. “It kind of came and went, and, when he did throw it for a strike, it was up in the zone. But, he did battle. But, obviously, they ran into a three-run homer there in the fifth, and that was obviously the difference.”

Fisher Jameson entered out of the bullpen after a two-out single later in the fifth and did his job. He tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings to give his offense a chance.

They had a great chance to tie the game in the seventh. Langford lined Lohse’s first pitch into left field for a single, and he stole second base with one out. However, Jud Fabian flew out to left, and Riopelle struck out swinging to end the threat.

Four UF pitchers toed the rubber in the bottom of the inning and did an impressive tightrope job. Jameson walked Austin to lead off the inning, which led to Nick Ficarrotta entering. Ficarrotta gave up a first-pitch single but struck out Montgomery before exiting the game.

Southpaw Philip Abner took over to face a left-handed batter and a switch-hitter with two runners on and one out. He uncorked a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position but struck out Fox Leum on a perfectly executed slider down and away.

O’Sullivan chose to intentionally walk Nander De Sedas after Abner fell behind 3-1 and then brought in Blake Purnell to face the right-handed Coletta. Coletta hit Purnell’s 0-1 pitch well, but shortstop Josh Rivera jumped into the air and made the catch a few steps into the outfield grass to end the inning.

UF put another runner in scoring position in the eighth when Evans was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second. Once again, the Gators came away empty. Lohse struck out Kris Armstrong. After Rivera walked, Colby Halter chopped Lohse’s first offering back to the mound for an easy final out of the inning.

Missouri tacked on an important insurance run in the bottom of the frame. Purnell erased a leadoff single by getting Ty Wilmsmeyer to ground into a double play, but O’Sullivan chose to give the ball to Ryan Slater with the top of the Tigers’ order coming up.

The move backfired. Mann doubled down the right-field line on an 0-2 pitch, and Slater walked Austin after getting ahead in the count 0-2.

Not finishing out either of those two-strike situations proved costly when Day hit a sharp groundball to the right side of the infield. Thompson made a diving stop but couldn’t field the ball cleanly. Mann scored all the way from second on the infield single to make it 5-3.

“We tried to do anything we could to try to keep it a one-run game,” O’Sullivan said. “I think the disappointing part, too, is we had two outs and nobody on, and, obviously, Mann coming up and Blake being a side-armer, we just needed to close out the inning there. We had an 0-2 count on the first two hitters, and we gave up a double and then obviously walked the next one. So, we ended up giving up a run.

“Those things, they’ve got to stop. With two outs and nobody on, we’ve got to close out the inning. Everybody’s got a job to do and just keep it a one-run game. Their pitcher hadn’t picked to first the entire year, so, we get one guy on, we can steal second and get the tying run in scoring position. But, obviously, down two, it kind of changes the offense there in the ninth.”

Thompson singled with one out in the ninth to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but Fabian grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

The Gators will try to bounce back on Sunday and win their third series in a row.

“We’ll have to put this behind us and get ready to play [on Sunday],” O’Sullivan said. “I’m looking forward to getting Nick Pogue back out there, and our bullpen should be fresh. Nobody was extended. So, we’ll get after it [on Sunday].”

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.