Gator baseball
Stacking the days. (Photo from @GatorsBB)

Rivera’s Nine RBIs lead Gator Baseball Over FAU

It wasn’t pretty early on for the number six Florida baseball team on Tuesday night, but consistent bats, clutch defense late and pitching struggles by Florida Atlantic paved the way to an 18-11 win over the Owls at Condron Family Ballpark.

It was the most combined runs in a Florida game since March 3, 2019, when the Gators, now 11-3, defeated Winthrop 28-5.

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Florida hit four home runs in the game, including a pair of three-run shots by Josh Rivera, who also plated a career-high nine RBIs. Rivera is the first Gator to have nine RBIs in a single game since JJ Schwartz in 2015.

“I was really pumped up,” Rivera said. “I’ve never had nine RBIs in one game. It was very special for me.”

However, FAU right fielder Nolan Schanuel plated five runs for the Owls behind three home runs to keep the Owls in the game.

Both team’s pitching struggled throughout the game. FAU combined to give up 14 total hits and hit another six Gators in the game. Meanwhile, Florida’s pitchers combined to give up 11 hits and 10 runs through six innings.

However, Gator head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said that the stats weren’t indicative of the pitcher’s work and gave credit to the Owls for their strong bats.

“We got a freshman [Yoel Tejeda Jr.] that’s still trying to find his way against a difficult lineup to navigate through, they have five lefties and a switch hitter,” he said. “We still got some things to work on but, let’s face it, FAU’s lineup is as good as any lineup we’re going to see this year for the most part.”

Gators take an early lead

The Owls took an early 1-0 lead behind Schanuel’s solo home run in the first inning, but three-run home runs by Rivera and Tyler Shelnut in the inning gave the Gators an early 6-1 lead.

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After a 42-minute weather delay, Schanuel hit his second home run of the day, a three-run shot to center field to cut Florida’s lead to two in the third inning.

However, Ty Evans answered with a solo shot in the bottom half of the inning, his second straight game with a home run. The Gators led 7-4 after three innings. From there, it seemed as if the wheels began to fall off.

Runs galore in the fourth as pitchers struggle

Although the bats were hot early on, Florida’s non-weekend starters continued their struggles early on Tuesday night.  Yoel Tejeda Jr. got the start on the mound and pitched three full innings. After giving up a walk and a single to start the fourth, he was pulled in favor of Ryan Slater.

Slater struggled in the inning, allowing three singles that resulted in three runs, while a fielder’s choice and a groundout resulted in two more runs. He also walked two more batters in the frame.  Two of the runs from Slater’s work were given to Tejeda Jr., who finished the night with six hits allowed, six earned runs given up with no strike outs.

Meanwhile, FAU also made a pitching change by taking out starter Evan Waterbor, who allowed seven runs and five hits in three innings, in favor of Brandon Smith.

The struggles continued for the Owls as Smith hit Cade Kurland and walked Wyatt Langford to begin the inning. After Jac Caglianone reached on a fielder’s choice, Rivera flew out to centerfield to score Kurland.  Smith would walk BT Riopelle before hitting Evans to bring home another run.  CJ Williams relieved Smith in the inning, but a wild pitch allowed Caglianone to score from third, giving Florida a 10-9 lead.

In total, the teams combined to score eight runs with 13 total baserunners. FAU recorded four hits, three walks and a fielder’s choice. Meanwhile Florida walked twice, got hit by two pitches and reached once on a fielder’s choice.

Rivera and Schanuel trade homers

Once again, Rivera provided a much-needed offensive spark for the Gators, driving a pitch well over the left field fence to score himself, Langford and Kurland, who were walked and hit by a pitch.

“Now, it being my fourth year here, definitely just trying to treat every at-bat like it’s my last,” Rivera said. “Just trying to have fun with it as much as possible because I don’t want to dwell on any mistakes that I’ve made or any bad swings I’ve had.”

The 398-foot home run was Rivera’s seventh of the season, all coming in the last 14 games. It also set his new-career high in RBIs with seven, which he would extend later in the game.

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However, the Owls would not go down quietly behind Schanuel’s bat. With two outs in the frame, Schanuel hit a solo shot to right center to cut the deficit to three runs; his third home run of the game doubled his total he had coming into the night.

Defense picks up the pace

With the bats cracking and both teams scoring at ease, Florida’s defense woke up and provided clutch play over the course of the final three innings.

Nick Ficarrotta took the mound in the seventh inning and only needed to face four batters to record three outs, which included a line drive he caught quickly for the first out. He struck out Jalen Debose to end the inning, which was only Florida’s second strikeout of the game.

Much was the same in the eighth inning for the Gator defensive, as Rivera’s play at shortstop plus a strikeout by Ficarrotta gave Florida two quick outs.

With Schanuel back up to bat, O’Sullivan took another chance on his bullpen and sent in Philip Abner, and it paid off immediately. Abner struck out Schanuel on three pitches to end the eighth inning, putting the Gators in the driver’s seat.

“For those three guys in particular in the middle, to do their job and not spiral out of control and like I said, put up a zero in the top of the fifth and it was good to get them out there, have success, get them out, so now they can move forward and hopefully we can keep building,” O’Sullivan said.

Five runs in the eighth seal it

Meanwhile, FAU’s bullpen issues continued in the eighth inning. Pitcher Sean Goodwin allowed five base runners and zero outs before Braden Ostrander replaced him.

Shelnut walked to begin the inning, and Colby Halter ran for him.  A Michael Robertson single advanced Halter, and a Kurland walk loaded the bases.  Langford joined the scoring output with a base hit to plate Robertson and Halter. Goodwin hit Caglianone on the next pitch to load the bases again.

After Ostrander replaced Goodwin, Rivera recorded his eighth and ninth RBIs with a base hit, scoring Langford and Kurland. Riopelle added a sacrifice fly to score Caglianone, giving the Gators an 18-10 lead going into the ninth.

FAU would plate one more with a home run from Jackson Ross off of Brandon Neely, who also struck out a batter before a single, a hit batter and a walk loaded the bases.

However, a pop-up caught by Riopelle and a strike out gave Florida the win at home.

Next up

The Gators will look to sweep the Owls on Wednesday night with another match up at Condron Family Ballpark. First pitch is at 6 p.m. with radio coverage on WRUF beginning at 5:55 p.m.

About Cam Parker

Cam is a fourth-year broadcast journalism sports and media major at the University of Florida. In addition to writing and recording radio trendings for WRUF, Cam covers North Florida HS football for The Prep Zone and Mainstreet Daily News and UF football and basketball for Inside the Gators.

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