UF's Colby Shelton hits against St John’s at the Condron Family Ballpark on Feb.16. [Lee Ann Anderson/WRUF]

Florida Rolls Over Columbia In Game 2 Win

The Florida Gators baseball team have endured all kinds of ups and downs in their series with the Columbia Lions this weekend. In game one, the teams combined for a staggering 21 runs. But in game two, Florida only recorded one run in the first seven innings of play before taking over in the eighth frame.

The Gators defeated the Lions, 7-3, on Saturday evening in front of 8,437 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in team history at Condron Family Ballpark. Florida (4-1) recorded six runs in the eighth inning to win the series. Game three is scheduled for today starting at 11 a.m. (SEC Network+, ESPN Gainesville 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF).

Junior first baseman Jac Caglianone dominated in the batter’s box. He went 4-for-4 while tacking on a pair of RBIs and one run. Senior third baseman Dale Thomas and junior right fielder Ty Evans each blasted a home run.

Highly touted freshman pitcher Liam Peterson excelled in his first home start. Peterson went four innings and finished with a line of two hits, three walks, zero runs and six strikeouts.

Luke McNeille, Brandon Neely and Jake Clemente combined to finish the final five innings for Florida. McNeille, who held the Lions scoreless for 2.2 innings, was credited with the win.

Starting Off Slow At The Plate

In the top of the first inning, Peterson secured a pair of quick outs against Columbia’s first two batters. Lions junior center fielder Skye Selinsky did manage to land on second after UF sophomore shortstop Colby Shelton failed to track down a shallow fly ball. But Peterson remained unfazed. He swiftly sat down the next batter he faced on strikes to strand Selinsky in scoring position.

After the Lions (0-2) sat down UF’s first two batters in the second frame, Thomas knew his team needed a momentum boost. He delivered.

Facing a 3-2 count, Thomas blasted the payoff pitch over the left field wall for a solo home run. As his teammates rushed out to meet him at home plate, Thomas’ roars of exhilaration could be heard across the ballpark.

“When you hit a ball, you kind of black out like that,” Thomas said. “All the emotions go, because you want to win so bad. As you can see, I’m full of emotion.”

Peterson Escapes The Jam In The Fourth Inning

By the start of the fourth inning, Peterson had begun to fizzle out on the mound. Skye Selinsky led off the inning with a walk and a stolen base for the Lions, while senior first baseman Jack Cooper followed with a knock into shallow left field. Peterson now had to deal with runners on the corners and no outs.

But whereas most pitchers would crumble under the pressure, Peterson delivered a diamond-worthy performance. In the following at-bat, Peterson sat down junior right fielder Anton Lazits on a three-pitch strikeout. Sophomore left fielder Cole Fellows subsequently managed to load the bases with a walk, as the home crowd continued to grow more anxious.

Peterson, however, remained cool, calm and collected. Eric Jeon managed to build the count up to 3-1 in his subsequent plate appearance, but Peterson came back and came through for strikeout number two. With the crowd at Condron now on their feet, he finally escaped the jam as he caught sophomore second baseman Jack Kail looking for his third strikeout of the inning.

Peterson credits his composure on the mound in tight situations to staying grounded and not overwhelming himself.

“I try to just really focus on my breathing,” Peterson said. “I try to not get too caught up in the moment. I’ll try to take a deep breath or maybe not work as quickly with pace as I usually do.”

Florida Cannot Catch A Break In The Box

Following Peterson’s close call in the fourth inning, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to replace him with McNeillie. Columbia freshman catcher Owen Estabrook welcomed him into the ballgame with a deep double into left-center field.

The freshman reliever quickly gathered himself and sat down the next three Lions. In the following frame, he picked up right where he left off on the mound. Despite a two-out single, McNeillie prevented the Lions from doing any damage in the frame. Entering the bottom of the sixth, Florida’s lead remained 1-0.

By this point, the Gators needed to find a way to do some damage. Caglianone led off the side with a hard hit. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout from sophomore catcher Luke Heyman. After Shelton landed on second via a walk, Florida had runners on the corners with just one out.

But the Gators could not capitalize on the opportunity. Caglianone ended up stranded in scoring position after a strikeout from junior right fielder Ty Evans and a groundout from senior left fielder Tyler Shelnut.

“Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the opposing team,” O’Sullivan said. “The pitchers were pretty good tonight.”

Brandon Neely Tames The Lions

While the offense continued to struggle, UF pitching kept in control. McNeillie and Neely combined to toss a scoreless seventh frame, with the latter pitcher taking over the mound for the final two innings.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Gators nearly broke through in the batter’s box. Senior second baseman Armando Albert and redshirt sophomore center fielder Michael Robertson made it on base via a hit-by-pitch and a walk, respectively. Caglianone proceeded to load the bases with his third hit of the day into shallow left field.

Yet once again, the Gators could not bring any runs home. With two outs already on the board, Heyman popped out to shortstop, leaving all three Florida runners stranded.

Neely continued to dominate. He threw out a pair of three-pitch strikeouts before retiring the Lions via an infield ground out.

Gators Explode For Six Runs

Florida finally broke out in the eighth. Shelton reached first on a hit-by-pitch to lead off the frame. Evans then drilled a home run.

The ball soared through the air and landed on Hull Road as the crowd in Condron Ballpark erupted in cheers with the Gators jumping to a 3-0 lead. But they were still not done.

Immediately after Evans’ moon shot, Shelnut made it to second base on a Columbia fielding error. After reaching third on a wild pitch, he scored via a sacrifice fly from Thomas.

Sophomore designated hitter Brody Donay followed Thomas up with a single, while Albert subsequently made it to first on another Columbia walk. Albert was tagged out at second after Robertson grounded into a fielder’s choice. Nevertheless, the speedy UF center fielder made it right back to second base on his own via a wild pitch.

Caglianone then belted a two-RBI single into deep right field, extending Florida’s lead to 6-0. The Lions proceeded to walk Heyman and Shelton to reload the bases.

Evans returned to the batter’s box for his second at-bat of the inning, but this time, he held back on his swing. After his homer earlier in the frame, Evans picked up another RBI on a bases-loaded walk. Columbia finally retired the Gators on a swinging strikeout from Shelnut. But the damage had already been done: Florida’s lead now sat at 7-0.

Putting The Cherry On Top

Entering the final inning of play, Florida had captured every remaining ounce of momentum. Now, the team just needed to capture three final outs to put the game on ice. However, the Lions refused to go down without a fight. Cole Fellows led off the side with a single. Freshman pinch hitter Miles Blackwell landed on base two at-bats later after Clemente hit him with a pitch.

With the Lions down to their final out, senior designated hitter Cole Hage launched a three-run homer into right to cut UF’s lead to 7-3. Nevertheless, Hage’s long ball proved to be too little, too late, as Clemente forced a fly out to center to record out number three. It proved to be a bumpy road to the finish line for the Gators, but they still found a way to come out on top.

 

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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