The Condron Family Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field. [Caleb Ross/WRUF]

Gators Baseball Stunned By Dolphins

The No. 6 Florida Gators were defeated by the Jacksonville Dolphins 7-6 at Condron Family Ballpark on Tuesday night.

Yet another mid-week collapse by the Gators (12-8). This time caused by ice-cold bats and inconsistent pitching. Jac Caglianone (two home runs), Tyler Shelnut and Luke McNeillie were bright spots in the loss.

Starter Rust

Tuesday was pitcher Ryan Slater’s first start of the season. Slater had starter experience last season and has pitched against the Dolphins in his collegiate career. Last year, Slater went four innings allowing one run and three hits in a victory for the Gators. Slater did not have the same result Tuesday.

Slater could only muster one inning against JU and allowed two runs on two walks and two hits. Fisher Jameson went an inning and two-thirds and allowed another run that brought JU’s lead to 3-0. Slater was only going to throw 30 pitches because of the LSU series starting Friday, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

“[Slater] was going to go 30 pitches and we were going to get two innings out of him and get him to the weekend because he only threw two-thirds of an inning,” O’Sullivan said. “That was the thought process there and then he threw 27 in the first and that was it. ”

With runners at first and second, Jameson was pulled in the third for Robert Satin. The first freshman pitcher of the night allowed a walk to his first batter. He was immediately pulled for another freshman, Grayson Smith (0-1). Smith got out of the third inning on a strikeout.

Third-Inning Bounce Back

After the Gators put themselves in a three-run hole, the offense once again needed to bring itself back into the game. Cade Kurland singled to start the inning and brought up Caglianone for a chance to bring it to a one-run game. The Golden Spikes-hopeful smoked a fastball to right-center field for his eighth home run of the season.

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UF then took the lead at 4-3 on back-to-back singles by Luke Heyman and Ty Evans and Shelnut’s two-run double.

Positive Freshman Pitching

Smith let on three straight batters to load the bases in the JU fourth. A single and fielder’s choice scored two runners as the Dolphins (8-12) regained the lead at 5-4.

Luke McNeillie took over in relief of Smith and was a bright spot on the mound for the Gators on Tuesday.

McNeillie struck out a JU batter to end the fourth and then struck out the side in the fifth. McNeillie appeared more confident in his approach and aggressively went at batters.

His command also improved, with multiple pitches on the outer edge of the plate and left batters looking helpless. In the two and one-third innings pitched, McNeillie faced nine batters and sat down six.

“There were certainly some bright moments in the game [on Tuesday] and that’s certainly probably the highlight honestly, that [McNeillie] came back,” O’Sullivan said. “When you have games like this everybody just has got to do their part. Certainly, Luke did that tonight.”

Alex Philpott came in after McNeillie and gave the Gators another two and one-third innings but had trouble in the ninth.

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Philpott let up two hits in the ninth and was pulled for Robert Melendez, who then allowed another hit to load the bases. A batter later, a ball grounded between Caglianone and Kurland squeaked into right field to score two. Most of JU’s production occurred in the gap between first and second base.

Bottom Three In The Order

O’Sullivan rolled out Landon Russell, Brody Donay and Jaylen Guy as the bottom third of the starting lineup Tuesday. Only Russell stayed in the entire game. Armando Albert came in for Donay while Hayden Yost subbed in for Guy. Those five players combined to bat 1-for-11. The one hit was by Russell in the ninth inning that drove in a run.

Six runners were left on base by hitters in the bottom third of the Gators’ batting order, including a strikeout to end the game from Albert with two runners aboard.

 

LSU Series

This is the series that every moderately-engaged college baseball viewer has circled on their calendar. A rematch of the 2023 College World Series final between programs with vast history against each other. LSU (18-4) is coming off a series loss against Mississippi State in Starkville, including a 15-5 blowout by the Bulldogs in the rubber match Sunday.

For the Gators, this midweek game stings but minds are focused on No. LSU. Florida will have a healthy Brandon Neely for the LSU series as well. Neely was pulled in the ninth inning in Sunday’s victory over Texas A&M with a bicep injury, but he should be ready to go for Friday.

About Nick VanZandt

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

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