Gators outduel Bulldogs on mound to sweep series

Sunday’s series finale between Florida and Mississippi State at Dudy Noble Field was a pitchers’ duel for the first seven innings. Both teams entered the eighth inning with identical line scores of one run on five hits.

Mississippi State starter Cade Smith retired the final 10 Gators that he faced, and UF’s Nick Pogue and Fisher Jameson combined to retire 14 of the last 16 Bulldogs that had stepped to the plate at that point.

Then, as they did in game two on Saturday night, the Gators’ offense sprang to life down the stretch to run away with victory.

Sterlin Thompson broke the tie in the eighth by crushing a hanging 1-2 slider by reliever Pico Kohn over the wall in right-center field for his ninth homer of the year.

Two walks by Jackson Fristoe and an infield single by Josh Rivera loaded the bases with one out in the ninth. Wyatt Langford slapped a pitch under the first baseman’s glove and into right field. Two runs scored, and Langford advanced to second with a double after the throw back to the infield got away. Thompson then put the nail in the Bulldogs’ coffin by driving in two more runs with a line-drive single to right to make it 6-1.

Those insurance runs proved vital, as Mississippi State finally broke through against Jameson in the bottom of the inning when Logan Tanner sent a line drive over the left-field wall. The Bulldogs got another runner on base when third baseman Colby Halter overthrew first baseman Kendrick Calilao on what should’ve been a routine groundout, but Jameson got Kellum Clark to fly out to left to end the game and secure the series sweep.

It marks only the second time this year that the Gators (29-18, 11-13 SEC) have swept a weekend series and their first time in conference play. It’s also their first SEC road sweep since they defeated Missouri in the final three games of the 2019 regular season.

“It was a good weekend for us,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It certainly was. It was one that we needed as well. Hopefully, some of these young pitchers are getting better as we go along and we can finish strong.

“We battled. We left some guys stranded the first couple innings and hit into a double play with the bases loaded. Those kinds of things happen, but, the last few nights, we battled at the plate late and had a big inning [Saturday] in the ninth and a big inning today, obviously, in the ninth.”

Langford (2-for-5), Thompson (2-for-3, two walks) and Rivera (2-for-4) combined for six of UF’s nine hits and all six RBI.

Pogue made his first appearance against an SEC opponent this season and his second weekend start overall. He scattered five hits and stranded three runners on base to give up just one run in five innings. He walked only one batter and struck out four.

Jameson took the mound to start the sixth and didn’t give up a hit until the ninth-inning home run. He picked up his first career win in just his fourth outing.

“Fisher’s just a different look,” O’Sullivan said. “He throws from a high angle, and hitters really have a tough time seeing the bottom half of the ball because it’s got so much angle on it.”

The Bulldogs (25-23, 9-15) took advantage of some good fortune to grab a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Luke Hancock singled up the middle with two outs, and Pogue walked Tanner. Pogue then jammed Hunter Hines with a 1-2 pitch. Hines hit it high into the air for what would normally be a routine pop out. Instead, Halter and Rivera failed to locate the ball with the sun in their eyes, and it landed on the infield dirt for an RBI single.

Catcher BT Riopelle got the Gators out of the inning by picking off Hines with a lazar of a throw to first.

MSU’s lead only lasted a few minutes. Jac Caglianone led off the second with a single up the middle against Smith. Ty Evans followed by crushing a pitch off of the right-field wall for a double. Two batters later, Rivera tied the game by hitting a soft groundball to short for an RBI groundout.

Both teams failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the third. Langford led off the top of the frame with a single to left, and Smith walked Thompson to put two runners on. However, the inning was derailed when Jud Fabian struck out swinging instead of moving the runners up, one of five strikeouts on the day for him. Riopelle singled to right to load the bases, but Caglianone grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

In the bottom of the inning, RJ Yeager doubled into the left-center gap with one out. Pogue then fell behind Kamren James 3-0 but battled all the way back to strike him out. Hancock flew out to left to end the inning.

Florida put two more runners on base in the fourth with two outs when Rivera singled up the middle and Halter reached on a fielding error by shortstop Lane Forsythe. However, Langford just got under a 2-1 pitch from Smith and flew out to center.

That was basically all of the offense until Thompson tilted the game in the Gators’ favor in the eighth.

This was a huge weekend for the Gators. They needed one win to stay in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid and two wins to put themselves in a great position. With three wins, it’s extremely likely that they’ll make the postseason at this point.

If they go 3-3 over their final two series against struggling Missouri and South Carolina teams, they’ll hear their name called on Selection Monday for sure. Even a 2-4 record over the final two weekends might get the job done.

O’Sullivan is pleased with the way that his team played this weekend, but he’s urging his players to maintain that same sense of urgency for the remainder of the season.

“We cannot get ahead of ourselves,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a great weekend for us, but we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got two big series left, and we’re going to keep preaching the same thing that we’re going to take it one game at a time, and, hopefully, that message is getting across.”

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.