Florida baseball completes a masterful comeback in their opening game of the Men’s College World Series, defeating Virginia 6-5 behind a three run ninth inning, launching the Gators into the winner’s bracket.
Virginia was previously 46-0 on the season when leading after eight innings.
The Gators found the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning after junior infielder Colby Halter smoked a line drive over the shortstop’s head, scoring BT Riopelle from third base. Halter is now 7 for 18 (.388) in the NCAA Tournament, totaling four RBIs in that span.
A pair of Virginia base running errors left Florida’s starter Brandon Sproat on cruise control through the first three innings of the game. The hard throwing right hander got stronger as the night went on, striking out three batters in the 5th and recording his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth.
“The first couple of innings we knew they were coming out trying to ambush the fastball,” Sproat said postgame. “We went out there just to see how they would approach to it. And that was their game plan.”
“I would say probably the third inning on kind of relied on the off-speed early,” Sproat said. “Kind of mix and match hitters with the first pitch, whether it was first-pitch fastball or first-pitch change-up. But what was working for me was, like I said, the off-speed early and often, and kind of the put-out pitch with the change-up.”
Sproat finished with a line of 6.1 innings pitched, three runs, five hits, three walks, and seven strikeouts.
After being shutout for the first six innings, Virginia exploded for four runs in the top of the seventh against three different Gator pitchers (Sproat, Fisher, Neely).
Looking for a spark in the lineup, Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to pinch hitters Dale Thomas and Ty Evans, who both reached base with one out in the 7th. Freshman Cade Kurland would later ground out to shortstop, scoring Thomas from third base to cut Virginia’s lead to 4-2.
One inning later, BT Riopelle blasted a solo home run to left center, cutting the Gators deficit to one. The veteran catcher has now recorded seven home runs in his last night hits.
“All the times in my life where I’ve had the opportunity to do things that I’m doing right now and I didn’t do them has just prepared me for what I’m doing now,” Riopelle said on his recent success. “It’s sticking to the approach and believing in the coaches and myself and the players around me.”
Riopelle reached base four times in the contest, totaling two hits, one RBI, and two runs scored.
Brandon Neely allowed one run in the top of the ninth after Harrison Didawick tripled to right field, scoring Saucke from first base.
Looking for a late rally, Ty Evans answered the call, blasting his fifth home run of the season into the bullpen in left field to start the bottom half of the ninth. The long ball held an exit velo of 113 mph.
Two batters later, Wyatt Langford tied the game with a solo shot of his own, bringing nearly 25 thousand fans to their feet. The 456-foot home run landed on the concourse in left field, the furthest home run ever recorded on Charles Schwab Field.
After some command issues from Virginia’s closer Jake Berry, freshman DH Luke Heyman ended the game in walk off fashion, flying out to center field with the bases loaded, scoring Caglianone with ease.
“It was obviously a really well-played game,” Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said postgame. “We knew going into it that it was going to be a very fundamentally sound game on both sides. Virginia played really good. Didn’t give us anything.”
“If Sproat and Neely don’t do what they’ve done it wouldn’t have given us a chance there in the ninth,” O’Sullivan said. “And obviously we had some big at-bats by Wyatt and Ty Evans. What can you say? This guy has hung in there, he’s battled. Probably a little disappointed with the amount of playing time he’s had this year but had a big double and big home run tonight.”
RHP Brandon Neely earned the victory while throwing just 32 pitches. He’ll available for the Gators on Sunday.
“And obviously BT had the big home run,” O’Sullivan said. “And obviously Luke Heyman came up with a 2-0 count and stayed in the middle of the field and got the winning run in.”
“Special things happen this time of the year. Awfully proud of the team the way we battled,” O’Sullivan added.
Escaping Friday night with a victory was a big deal for the Gators as only four of the last 41 National Champions have claimed the title after losing their opening game in the College World Series.
Florida will take on Oral Roberts on Sunday.