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BT Riopelle celebrates his walk-off home run Wednesday night against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Photo courtesy of Emma Bissell.

Gator Baseball Opens SEC Tournament Play with Walk-Off Win

After a regular season co-SEC title, it didn’t seem that the Florida Gator baseball team on Wednesday evening would replicate their late success against Alabama in the second round of the SEC Tournament after 10.5 innings of back-and-forth baseball.

A three-run double by Tommy Seidl had given Alabama a 6-3 lead in the 11th inning, all but sealing the win for the ninth-seeded Crimson Tide. With their backs against the wall, the SEC’s top seed chomped right back.

Wyatt Langford (1 for 4), Jac Caglianone (2 for 4) and Josh Rivera (2 for 4, 3 RBIs) all singled to score one and put two on base. In his final SEC Tournament, BT Riopelle stepped up to the plate. Facing an 0-2 count, a swing, a crack of the bat and a ball that sailed over the right-center field fence gave the Gators a 7-6 win to open play in the SEC Tournament.

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“A really good baseball game. Fighting back and forth the whole time throughout,” assistant coach Chuck Jeroloman told WRUF’s Jeff Cardozo postgame. “To come back as quick as we did, not have our heads down, and come back and fight. It’s what it’s all about this time of year.”

Gators take early lead

Florida only needed four batters to take an early lead. Following a two-out base hit by Caglianone in the first inning, Rivera hit his first home run since April 16 to give the Gators an early 2-0 lead.

With the home run, Rivera tied the school record for home runs hit by a Gator shortstop in a season (15).

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Meanwhile, starter Hurston Waldrep found early success on the mound by striking out three batters while allowing one hit in three scoreless innings.

However, the Gator runs came sparingly from there while Alabama eventually found offensive success. The Crimson Tide scored a two-out run in three-straight innings to take a 3-2 lead.

Crimson Tide stomp Gators’ lead

The Crimson Tide struck in the fourth inning behind a two-out RBI single from Colby Shelton to make the score 2-1. With two on base, Waldrep ended the inning with his fifth strikeout of the game.

However, the Crimson Tide continued to elephant stomp the Gator lead in the fifth inning. With two outs, a single from Ed Johnson, a hit batter, single from Ed Rose and a sacrifice fly from Jim Jarvis tied the game 2-2. Once again, Waldrep ended the inning without anymore damage with his sixth strikeout of the game.

From there, Alabama scored its third unanswered run in the fifth inning behind a two-out solo home run from Shelton. After walking the next batter, Waldrep’s day was over, and Ryan Slater replaced him.

In 5.2 innings of work, Waldrep struck out seven batters allowing five hits and three earned runs. Slater and Philip Abner worked scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth.

Gators chomp back

After six scoreless innings, the Gators chomped back in the bottom of the eighth. Dale Thomas (2 for 3)  walked to lead off the frame, and Michael Robertson laid down a sacrifice bunt. A throwing error by pitcher Aidan Moza allowed Thomas to reach home, tying the game 3-3. A pair of strikeouts ended the inning.

“He’s a tough kid with a great work ethic,” Jeroloman said of Thomas. “He’s a really good teammate, and he’s fought the whole year to get this opportunity. Hopefully he keeps running with it like he did tonight.”

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Brandon Neely took the mound in the ninth, and like two of his predecessors, forced a scoreless frame after striking out Rose to retire the side. The Gators couldn’t answer in the bottom half, sending the game to extra innings.

Extra, Extra! BT Walks it Off in Extras

Alabama bent but didn’t break Neely and the Gator defense in the 10th inning with a base hit and a walk to put two on. Neely struck out Shelton to end the frame. All three outs came courtesy of a Neely strikeout.

Florida didn’t have any better success in the bottom half after Thomas’ leadoff single. Robertson popped up a bunt attempt, and Thomas was caught stealing as Cade Kurland struck out.

After singles by Dominic Tamez and Johnson put runners on the corners, former Gator Mac Guscette laid down a bunt but was called out for interference at first, which negated the potential game-winning run.

A steal and intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs, and Alabama took full advantage. Seidl doubled to clear the bases and give the Crimson Tide a 6-3 lead.

However, the Gator bats, as they have done most of the season, answered right away. A trio of singles added one more run, and Riopelle’s walk-off home run clinched the victory.

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“I think it was seven total pitches that completely changed the game. It happens pretty fast,” Jeroloman said. “When you get that momentum going, it’s really hard to stop. It goes the other way, too, but hopefully we can ride this wave a little bit. Make a run in this thing.”

Now in the winner’s bracket, Florida will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between No. 5 Auburn and No. 4 Vanderbilt on Thursday night following the conclusion of game one between LSU and Arkansas. Radio coverage can be found on WRUF.

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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