Gators
Gators left-hander Cade Fisher has struck out 37 batters through his first five starts of the 2024 season. [Photo by Emma Bissell/FloridaGators.com]

No. 8 Gators Belt Out Five Home Runs To Knock Off No. 4 Aggies In Series Opener

On a crisp Friday evening, Condron Ballpark briefly turned into a launch pad for the Florida Gators baseball team. In their series opener against the No. 4 Texas A&M Aggies, the No. 8 Gators blasted five home runs en route to an 8-6 win.

Florida (11-6, 1-0 SEC) came out of the gates stumbling defensively, allowing the Aggies (17-1, 0-1) to take a 5-2 lead in the second inning. But the Gators responded with a four-run third inning to reclaim the lead.

After Texas A&M briefly tied the game in the fourth inning, UF sophomore second baseman Cade Kurland and sophomore shortstop Colby Shelton knocked out a pair of solo homers to put the Gators back on top for good.

Shelton went on to finish the day with a 3-for-5 performance at the plate and three runs scored. Junior first baseman Jac Caglianone blasted out two home runs early in the evening to keep the Gators afloat, while senior left fielder Tyler Shelnut chipped in with a three-run shot.

Sophomore right-hander Cade Fisher (2-1), after a turbulent second inning, found his footing as the game went on. He finished the evening with a line of six hits, one walk, six runs and 10 strikeouts through six innings and 109 pitches.

Junior closer Brandon Neely pitched the final three innings for his first save. Neely allowed one hit, no walks and no runs while striking out three batters on 38 pitches.

For Texas A&M, freshman third baseman Gavin Grahovac and senior catcher Jackson Appel each hit a home run to keep the game close. But despite an explosive start, Texas A&M could not hang on against Florida’s dynamic offense.

Early Offensive Fireworks From Both Squads

Caglianone wasted no time in bringing fans at Condron Ballpark to their feet. The junior battled through six pitches in his first at-bat of the game. But on pitch number seven, Caglianone let his bat rip.

As the ball soared through the air, the crowd rose in nervous anticipation. TAMU sophomore center fielder Jace LaViolette perched right beneath the 400-foot mark on the wall and leaped into the air. But the ball flew over his head and landed comfortably in Dizney Grove. Caglianone had knocked out a first-inning home run to put Florida on the board.

Two at-bats later, sophomore shortstop Colby Shelton drilled a deep line drive into right field for a two-out double. Junior right fielder Ty Evans brought him home with an RBI single into left on the next at-bat, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead.

But the Aggies came roaring back in the second inning with plenty of offensive fireworks of their own. Texas A&M loaded the bases with a hit batter, a walk and a single into shallow right. Fisher allowed a pair of runs to score on a fielder’s choice from junior shortstop Ali Camarillo and an RBI single from sophomore second baseman Kaeden Kent.

Even with two outs, the Aggies were still far from done. Grahovac blasted a deep ball into center-right. UF senior center fielder Jaylen Guy gave the ball chase, but to no avail. Grahovac’s knock sailed over the fence with ease, giving Texas A&M a 5-2 lead.

Florida Bounces Back In The Third Inning

Caglianone’s second solo home run of the game cut UF’s deficit to 5-3 in the third.

While Caglianone had already gotten off to a blazing start, the rest of Florida’s offense had been initially slow to follow. But after Caglianone’s third inning moonshot, everything clicked for the Gators in the batter’s box. Sophomore designated hitter Luke Heyman landed on base via a hit-by-pitch. Shelton followed with another single through the right side.

Shelnut then hit a three-run home run to put the Gators back on top 6-5.

“I felt good about the way we were swinging the bat. Obviously, tonight, I thought we had a really good approach,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We can continue to talk about these things; the beginning, the rebound runs and that type of thing. Then we’ll be that much better.”

Hanging On By A Thread

But in the top of the fourth inning, Florida lost its lead with a powerful swing of the bat from Appel. The Texas A&M senior catcher led off the frame with a solo shot over the left field fence to tie the game back at 6-6. Fisher got the situation back under wraps to finish off the frame, but his one-run cushion had already vanished.

The Aggies came firing right back at Fisher in the top of the fifth inning. LaViolette led off the frame with a single up the middle, advancing into scoring position in the following at-bat. But Fisher escaped the inning unscathed, stranding LaViolette at third base and keeping the game tied at 6-6.

“My thought process was ‘I already gave up five runs, it can’t get much worse,'” Fisher said. “[I] just tried to limit the damage and keep my team in there as long as I can and go as long as I can.”

After Fisher kept Texas A&M at bay in the top of the sixth, Florida came back to the batter’s box looking to make a statement. The Gators grounded out in their first two at-bats, leaving Kurland in a less-than-ideal situation as he stepped to the plate. But the sophomore second baseman did not shy away from the moment: he embraced it.

Facing a 2-1 count, Kurland drilled the ball into center-left and over the wall for a solo home run. As the Florida dugout poured out to home plate to celebrate alongside Kurland, the stalemate had finally broken. The Gators now led 7-6 after six innings.

Putting The Cherry On Top

Not to be outdone by Kurland’s solo shot, Shelton came back out looking to make a statement of his own in the seventh inning. After letting the first pitch he saw fly by, Shelton cracked a deep fly over the left field wall and past the Aggies bullpen. Shelton’s long ball marked Florida’s fifth home run of the game, as the Gators had extended their lead to 8-6.

“[Texas A&M’s Chris Cortez] was throwing fastballs that were sinking away,” Shelton said. “I was going up there, seeing the fastball, and I got one that hovered over the plate, and I put a good swing on it.”

Already dealing with a c0mfortable two-run cushion, Neely took to the mound itching to finish the Aggies off. After pitching a pair of scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, it all came down to the final three outs.

Camarillo went down on a three-pitch swinging strikeout in the first at-bat. Sophomore second baseman Kaeden Kent followed up with a line drive to Evans in right field for out number two. Finally, as he faced off against Grahovac, Neely delivered the killshot with his third strikeout of the game. The previously-undefeated Aggies had fallen at the hands of the Gators in game one.

Up Next

Florida and Texas A&M  return to Condron Ballpark on Saturday for game two of the weekend series. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network+, ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF), with freshman right-hander Liam Peterson (1-1, 5.06 ERA) slated to take the mound for UF against Texas A&M righty Tanner Jones (1-0, 1.00 ERA).

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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