Florida's Dale Thomas is safe back at first in the bottom of the seventh inning during Game 1 of their Fall Ball exhibition double-header against Stetson, November 5, 2023, at Condron Family Ballpark. [Cyndi Chambers/ Gainesville Sun]

Pitching Continues To Haunt Gators In 9-7 Loss to St. Mary’s

In every loss this season, the issue for the Florida baseball team has been run prevention from its pitching staff. The trend of lackluster pitching continued Saturday at Condron Family Ballpark.

The No. 4 Gators lost to the St. Mary’s Gaels 9-7 to tie the series 1-1. The Gators (9-5) have the opportunity to take the series Sunday with Jac Caglianone on the mound.

A flurry of freshman mistakes and mental errors were the reasons the Gators lost to the West Coast Conference team despite above-average run support.

The Carousel of Struggling Pitchers

In every game the Gators lost entering Saturday, they have given up runs in the first two innings. Oddly enough, it took until the fourth inning for St. Mary’s (9-5) to get on the board.

Freshman Liam Peterson got the start for the Gators and pitched three innings of scoreless ball. He got out of multiple high-pressure situations, including in the second inning when Peterson pitched out of a jam with runners on second and third and no outs.

Peterson was missing his fastball. In the fourth, St. Mary’s connected on back-to-back homers to slice the Gators’ lead to 4-2. Peterson let the first two runners on in the fifth inning when coach Kevin O’Sullivan pulled him for Blake Purnell.

Purnell immediately let on his first batter to load the bases. Two batters later, a weakly hit ball to Armando Albert, making his first start at third base, scored a run. The throw to Caglianone at first base was offline and two additional runners scored to give St. Mary’s a 5-4 lead.

After Albert’s error, Purnell loaded the bases again and was pulled for freshman Grayson Smith. A fielder’s choice scored the Gaels’ fourth run in the inning. O’Sullivan did not like what he saw from Smith and pulled him for yet another freshman, Alex Philpott.

Florida got out of the inning on a failed double steal by St. Mary’s. In the fifth inning alone, four different Gator pitchers threw to a batter. Of those four pitchers, three were freshmen.

Young Bullpen

Philpott allowed a solo shot to start the seventh inning. O’Sullivan pulled him, for, you guessed it, another freshman reliever. Luke McNeillie took the mound and started his outing nicely with a strikeout.

The issue McNeillie (1-3) has this season is command. McNeillie walked the next batter and left a ball too far on the plate which resulted in a two-run blast that put the Gaels up 9-7.

Six Gator freshman pitchers have at least three game appearances. O’Sullivan used four of them (Peterson, Smith, Philpott and McNeillie) on Saturday. If Caglianone does not go at least five innings Sunday, chances are you will see both Robert Satin and Reilly Witmer on the UF mound.

O’Sullivan has made it clear in every postgame news conference that if things do not change soon, those who continue to struggle will not pitch come SEC play. O’Sullivan would also consider moving reliever Brandon Neely to a weekend starter.

“I don’t want to make changes just to make changes. These are the guys we have, they’ve had success in the past,” O’Sullivan said. “Last year, some of these guys had success on the biggest stage. They’ve run through the SEC schedule and pitched in Regionals, Super Regionals and the World Series. It’s a collective group. Bottom line is we just have to figure it out.”

Bats are Still There

A respectable amount of offensive output, but as we seen in the Gators’ defeats, it was not enough to overcome the pitching. Cade Kurland opened the gates early with a three-run home run in the second inning that put UF up 4-0.

https://twitter.com/GatorsBB/status/1766534288420565306

Colby Shelton sparked a small comeback in the fifth on a solo homer that cut the Gaels’ lead to 6-5.

https://twitter.com/GatorsBB/status/1766550520049565876

Luke Heyman completed that small comeback an inning later with a two-run home run to left field.

But after Heyman’s home run, the Gators went scoreless in the last three innings. The Gators left eight runners on base and Caglianone went hitless.

Coming Up

Sunday’s rubber game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. (SEC Network+, ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF) start. Caglianone (1-0, 3.00 ERA) will start for the Gators and righty Jason Reitz (1-0, 6.59) will start for the Gaels.

 

https://twitter.com/GatorsBB/status/1766527044593361340

About Nick VanZandt

Nick VanZandt is a senior journalism student at the University of Florida and this is his third semester working for WRUF.

Check Also

Gators Men’s Tennis Falls To Tennessee in SEC Quarterfinals

The Gators fell to the Tennessee Volunteers 4-1 Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals in …