The Florida Gators entered Saturday’s matchup against the Auburn Tigers in unfamiliar territory. Instead of needing a win s=to secure the series, the Gators found themselves trailing 1-0 and in search of a win to even up the weekend.
After taking a 10-1 beating against the Tigers Friday night, Florida needed a big performance on both sides of the plate to stay in the series.
The Gators got just that.
No. 3 Florida (23-5, 6-2 SEC) defeated Auburn (18-8-1, 3-5 SEC) 12-5 Saturday in a convincing performance offensively and defensively. The Gators put up 19 hits as Saturday ace Hurston Waldrep notched 10 strikeouts on the way to a series-tying victory.
“It was important that we responded that way after last night,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
Junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep started on the mound for the Gators, hoping to provide some defensive support after Florida’s loss Friday. His opening started off shakily, with a single and a walk putting the first two batters on base. Then, a wild pitch advanced both runners.
Auburn third baseman Bryson Ware was able to score a runner on a groundout to first base, putting the Tigers on the board first. Waldrep was able to secure two strikeouts to close the top of the first. The Gators started out of the gate trailing 1-0.
Florida responded in no time.
Junior outfielder Wyatt Langford knocked in the first hit of the night for the Gators after beating out a tag at first base. Sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone stepped to the plate behind him. The NCAA home run leader added to his total, now at 18, with a 2-run shot to right field to put the Gators up 2-1.
In the top of the second, Waldrep let up a leadoff double to put a runner in scoring position with no outs. The following at-bat, Auburn hit a line drive towards Junior shortstop Josh Rivera. Rivera gloved the ball for the first out and then made the throw in time at second base to clear the bases and secure a double play.
Waldrep let up another double in the second, but the Gators made the final out to close the frame without a score.
The Southern Mississippi transfer’s woes continued in the third inning as he walked the leadoff batter. After throwing his sixth consecutive ball, Waldrep and senior catcher BT Riopelle had a word on the mound. Immediately following the break, Waldrep’s pitch was hit into the right berm for a 2-run homer. Auburn now led 3-2.
After walking another batter, O’Sullivan trotted to the mound for another chat with Waldrep. He chose to keep his weekend starter on the rubber.
“We don’t normally do that early,” O’Sullivan said. “But it seemed to help.”
Florida’s infield closed the inning with the help of a double play to prevent any more damage.
In the bottom of the third, the Gators had a chance to come back with force. Langford reached first on an error, and was advanced to second on a Rivera single. Riopelle was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Junior and Santa Fe College transfer Tyler Shelnut stepped to the plate. He turned on a single to plate two runners and regain a 4-3 lead for the Gators.
Junior infielder Colby Halter followed suit with an RBI double to expand the lead to 5-3 and force Auburn to call upon right-handed reliever Christian Herberholz. A sacrifice groundout from sophomore outfielder Matt Prevesk made it 6-3.
The Gators topped it off with an RBI single from redshirt freshman outfielder Michael Robertson before he was caught stealing to close the inning. After the opening third, Florida led 7-3.
Despite letting up his fourth walk in the same amount of innings, Waldrep evened that total with his fourth strikeout to close the frame and secure a 1-2-3 inning.
Florida put two runners on base in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a Caglianone single and Rivera walk but closed the frame without a score.
Waldrep struck out the side in the top of the fifth, moving his total to seven at that point in the night.
The Gators went scoreless in the bottom of the fifth despite notching a trio of singles.
In the sixth inning, Waldrep recorded three more strikeouts to make it six consecutive outs on Ks. He stranded two runners and picked up his 10th strikeout as he closed the frame.
“There’s a lot to learn from this one,” Waldrep said.
Sophomore reliever Nick Ficarrotta entered for Waldrep in the seventh. He loaded the bases and gave up a 2-RBI single to make it just a 8-5 Gators lead with runners on the corners and one out.
Ficarrotta was pulled for closer Brandon Neely. The sophomore righty was able to close the frame without another score to make it 8-5 Gators.
Florida’s bats retook the field and rehabilitated the Gators’ run cushion. A single plus a fielder’s choice, a passed ball and a walk put runners on corners with two outs. Caglianone stepped to the plate and sent a ball off the wall for a 2-RBI triple. Rivera singled behind him to plate another, making it an 11-5 Florida lead after seven.
Neely delivered again, putting up a 1-2-3 inning to move along the top of the eighth.
Florida added another run on an RBI single from pinch-hitter Ty Evans. Neely worked through the ninth to close a convincing win for the Gators.
Florida will chase the series victory tomorrow versus Auburn. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. and the game will stream on SEC Network+.