The MLB draft is a looming shadow over every hopeful amateur looking to earn a spot in the pros. It’s a complicated and critical process, one that leaves many with a choice of settling for less for the sake of being a pro or betting on oneself for a greater reward.
Junior right-handed pitcher Brandon Sproat, who opted to return to Florida after being drafted 90th overall by the New York Mets in the offseason, took that bet. It’d be hard to angry at Sproat for having his concerns about returning — choosing a UF team coming off a disappointing 2022 instead of beginning his career. If there were any doubts, Sproat and the Gators’ performance Friday night versus Charleston Southern cleared them.
The Florida Gators (1-0) defeated the Charleston Southern Buccaneers (0-1) 13-3 Friday at Condron Family Ballpark. Sproat finished with zero hits, seven strikeouts and only three walked batters in 5.2 innings. The Gators as a whole needed just seven frames to fulfill the Southeastern Conference’s new “run rule” which states games can end early if a team leads by 10 runs after six complete innings.
“I honestly didn’t know I had [a no hitter] going, to be honest,” Sproat said.
Sproat kicked things off on the mound by touching 100 mph and striking out his first batter of 2023. After a small celebration, the opening strikeout led to sparing momentum. Sproat would walk his next batter, throw a wild pitch to advance him around to third and eventually give up a sacrifice fly and the opening run. The junior right-hander sat the following batter to retire the side with the Gators down 1-0.
Florida standout Wyatt Langford came up for the Gators’ opening offensive side and worked his way into a 3-1 count. After a deep ball to left field went just foul, the junior outfielder sent a laser through right center and came up with a triple. Junior shortstop Josh Rivera earned a walk thanks to the NCAA’s new rule that awards a ball when the pitcher exceeds the pitch count.
The walk put senior catcher BT Riopelle at the plate. Riopelle sent the first pitch back with authority, soaring past the right field wall for the Gators’ first home run of the season. After a quick review to make sure Riopelle touched third base, it was a 3-1 Gators lead after one inning.
UF added to its lead in the second after JUCO transfer Tyler Shelnut hit a double out to the warning track. Redshirt freshman Michael Robertson followed it up with a single through the infield, sending Shelnut back to home plate to make it a 4-1 Florida lead.
Sproat continued to deal after letting up the opening run in inning one. He threw four-straight scoreless innings to follow up the opening frame and helped maintain Florida’s lead.
Danger arose again for Charleston Southern in the fourth inning. Sophomore Deric Fabian hit a single up the middle, followed by two walks to load the bases and bring Langford to the plate. Buccaneers head coach Marc MacMillan chose to keep his pitcher on the hill after a quick chat.
Langford was walked to make it a 5-1 lead with the bases still loaded. Jac Caglianone approached the plate eager to empty the bases. He sat down for the third time that night after watching a called strike three go by. Rivera would come clean up the mess with a two-RBI single. Florida led 7-1 with an out to go.
In the fifth inning, Florida added one more run to its ever-extending lead thanks to Shelnut’s second double of the night.
“He’s just a good baseball player and a great teammate,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m glad he’s in our program. We don’t do a lot of junior college recruiting, but he’s a local kid who’s turned himself into a really good player.
Sproat was pulled for lefty Phillip Abner in the sixth after 5.2 hitless innings. Abner would be pulled after nine pitches after giving up a two-run single in favor of sophomore right-hander Fisher Jameson. Jameson forced the fly out to finish the inning.
Florida responded succinctly and extended its lead further in the bottom of the sixth inning. Langford doubled to shallow right and was brought home on a Caglianone single. Riopelle doubled once more to bring in Caglianone. Evans brought in two more runs on a single to put the Gators up 12-3 and within one run of ending the game early. UF couldn’t add one more before closing the frame and the game made it to the closing third.
Riopelle would finish the job in the seventh with an infield RBI single. Florida’s 13-3 lead in the seventh initiated the run rule and ended the ballgame.
“Everyone thinks they’ve got great chemistry this time of year,” O’Sullivan said. “The real test is when we go through some struggles like everybody does.”
The Gators are back at Condron tomorrow for game two against the Buccaneers. Florida can secure its first series win of 2023 with a victory. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. and the game will stream on SEC Network+.