Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

Junior infielder Josh Rivera stepped the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 7-7. The winning run stood at third base. Rivera, who had kept his team in the dogfight with two hits already, was clamoring for the final breakthrough needed for a series victory.

He turned on the 0-1 pitch and sent it down the right-field line for an RBI single, and gave the Gators the series despite not leading all game.

No. 5 Florida (18-3, 0-2) defeated No. 24 Alabama (16-4, 0-2) 8-7 in the first game of a Saturday double header to lock down the series.

Two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone, the usual Sunday starter for Florida, toed the rubber for game one of the double header. He came out to what’s becoming a signature shaky first frame, letting up a walk and a single to put two runners on. Alabama’s Drew Williamson stepped to the plate and homered on a full count to plate three runs and make it a 3-0 start for the Crimson Tide after the top of the first.

The Gators responded right away.

Freshman infielder Cade Kurland was plunked to put a runner on base. Junior shortstop Josh Rivera got Florida’s opening hit, the same as he did last night, to put a runner in scoring position. While Caglianone couldn’t plate a runner or get on base, senior BT Riopelle stepped up and sent a three-run shot of his own into the right berm.

After one inning, the score was even at three runs a piece.

Caglianone continued to struggle in the second inning. He plunked a batter and gave up a pair of singles to score a runner and make it 4-3 ‘Bama. After a wild pitch put two runners in scoring position, Caglianone was able to stop the bleeding with a strikeout to close the frame.

Florida went three up and three down in the bottom of the second to keep it a 4-3 Alabama lead. Caglianone snagged a perfect inning of his own in the top of the third, including his third strikeout of the night to keep the game within one run.

Kurland singled to reach base again, but the remaining Florida batters left him stranded. After the opening third, the Gators still trailed 4-3.

In the top of the fourth, Caglianone produced his second-straight perfect inning with help from a pair of strikeouts and a defensive gem by sophomore outfielder Ty Evans. Florida changed sides in search of some offensive production.

Riopelle put things in a positive direction with a leadoff double. Evans followed it up with a ground out to advance Riopelle. Junior infielder Tyler Shelnut stepped to the plate with two outs and the tying run at third.

He popped out to close the frame and Florida stayed behind by one run.

After sitting seven-straight batters, Caglianone began to unravel. He gave up a one-out walk in the top of the fifth, followed up by an RBI double to put the Tide up 5-3. Caglianone secured his sixth strikeout in one less inning to escape the jam once again, this time with his team down two runs.

Kurland stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fifth and sent a solo-shot homer into Dizney Grove for his seventh home run of the season. Caglianone stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game himself and sent the ball careening off the bat into center, but it died off quick and landed safely in the glove of the Alabama outfield. After five innings, Florida trailed 5-4.

O’Sullivan decided to pull Caglianone in the top of the sixth after he reached 100 pitches in the prior inning. Sophomore right-hander Nick Ficarrotta entered in relief.

Despite giving up a two-out walk, Ficarrotta secured the scoreless inning and a strikeout to keep it a one-run game.

Rivera stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and tied the game up for the Gators. His solo-shot homer tied his season-highs in both home runs and RBIs with nine and 32, respectively. Florida couldn’t pull ahead and settled for the 5-5 tie heading into the closing third of game two.

Ficarrotta was pulled midway through the top of the seventh after giving up a single and a walk. Freshman lefty Cade Fisher entered needing two outs with two runners on base.

He gave up an RBI single to put ‘Bama up once again, 6-5. He was promptly pulled in favor of redshirt sophomore right-hander Ryan Slater. The Palm Harbor native nabbed the final two outs and escaped the inning with just one run scored.

Shelnut dug in for the bottom of the seventh and led off with a double. Junior infielder Colby Halter laid down a sac bunt to put the tying run at third, allowing redshirt freshman Michael Robertson to smack an RBI single into right field. Shelnut scored to tie the game at six runs each, and the Tide reached further into their bullpen.

Robertson stole to put the leading run in scoring position. Caglianone dug in but was intentionally walked, opening the door for River to potentially grab his third hit in four at-bats and the lead.

Instead, Rivera waved strike three by and closed the inning, and things took a turn for the worse for the Gators. Alabama stepped up in the eighth and homered again to pull ahead once more, 7-6. Slater gave up a stand-up double, which prompted O’Sullivan to look to the ‘pen once more, this time calling sophomore lefty Philip Abner’s number.

Despite giving up a single and allowing a runner to advance on a groundout, Slater was able to punch out the final batter and put Florida within striking distance of the walk-off win.

Halter stepped up and sent a solo homer to left field for the tie. Robertson sent a single up the middle to put the winning run on base. A HBP and a fielder’s choice put Robertson at third and Rivera at the plate, and the rest is history.

Florida will wrap things up with game three shortly. The game will stream on SEC Network+.

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