Gators Liam Peterson
Liam Peterson pitched four scoreless innings in game two of Florida's double-header against the Tennessee Volunteers on May 3. [Photo by Bryce Mitchell/FloridaGators.com]

Donay, Peterson Shine As Gators Split Doubleheader With No. 3 Tennessee

Whereas the series opener between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers was postponed due to inclement weather, Friday’s double-header between the two squads featured nothing but clear skies and some electrifying baseball. Tennessee came away with a 6-2 win in game one, but Florida bounced back to secure a 4-3 victory in game two.

UF sophomore Brody Donay led the way for the Gators with a pair of strong performances in the batter’s box. Donay finished with two hits in each game, including a pair of home runs on the day as a whole. Sophomore Colby Shelton blasted out a two-run homer of his own in game two, while junior Jac Caglianone chipped in with a 3-for-3 performance at the plate.

On the mound, Junior Brandon Neely picked up his third loss of the season in game one. Neely allowed seven hits, no walks, four runs and seven strikeouts through four innings. Later in the day, freshman Liam Peterson excelled in game two to power the Gators to victory. Peterson threw out four innings, finishing with a line of one hit, two walks, no runs and seven strikeouts.

“I thought our energy in the second game was much better,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “You could tell that [Liam Peterson‘s] composure was just a little bit different today, and against an outstanding lineup. I thought his stuff looked really good.”

Trading Blows From The Get-Go

The Volunteers got right to work against Neely in the first game of the day. In the second inning, Tennessee immediately landed two runners in scoring position through a pair of singles and a wild pitch.

With no outs on the board, freshman Dean Curley drilled an RBI single through the right side to get the Volunteers on the board. Junior Hunter Ensley went on to score via a double-steal on the very next play, giving his squad an early 2-0 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Gators immediately got both runs back in the bottom of the inning. Sophomore Cade Kurland led off the frame with a single into left-center field. Two at-bats later, Donay knocked a fly ball deep into right field. The Tennessee outfield gave it chase, but the ball eventually landed just beyond the UF bullpen for Donay’s eighth home run of the 2024 campaign.

Tennessee kept the offensive chess match between these two squads alive in the top of the third. After the Volunteers drilled another pair of singles to lead off the frame, junior Billy Amick and sophomore Dylan Dreiling belted out back-to-back RBI knocks to go back up 4-2.

Florida Runs Out Of Gas In Game One

Florida struggled to piece together a response in the subsequent innings. Sophomore Luke Heyman led off the bottom of the fourth with a single into center field, while senior Tyler Shelnut landed on base via a hit-by-pitch. Kurland then laid down a sacrifice bunt in the subsequent at-bat to advance them into scoring position. Nevertheless, both runs ended up stranded after freshman Hayden Yost struck out and Donay grounded out to the pitcher.

Florida subsequently only recorded one hit in the next three innings, putting the Volunteers in prime position to seal this ballgame. Amick nailed another double down the left field line to lead off the eighth inning for Tennessee. After advancing to third on a ground out, Amick scored on a sacrifice fly later in the inning to extend the lead to 5-2.

The Gators finally started to show signs of life at the plate in the bottom of the inning. After junior Ty Evans was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, Caglianone blasted a double into the heart of center field to give Florida runners at the corners with no outs on the board.

But before the Gators could capitalize on their newfound momentum, the Volunteers crushed it. After Shelton went down on a swinging strikeout, Heyman hit a weak ground ball to Curley in the infield. The Tennessee shortstop flipped the ball over to junior Christian Moore, who made the tag at second base before throwing Heyman out at first to end the inning.

The Volunteers tacked on another run in the top of the ninth, courtesy of Dreiling’s second RBI single on the afternoon. Florida could not respond in the bottom of the frame, officially giving Tennessee the game one victory.

Blasting Off Early To Kick Off Game Two

Game two nearly got off to a scary start for the Gators in all kinds of ways. On just the second at-bat of the game, redshirt sophomore Michael Robertson crashed into the center field wall while chasing a deep fly ball from junior Blake Burke. Robertson collapsed to the ground in pain as Burke landed at third base for a triple.

Although it took Robertson some time to get back on his feet, he remained in the game. Peterson then got right back to business on the bump, sitting down back-to-back batters on strikes to strand the runner at third. The freshman right-hander seemingly only got better as the game went on, collecting five strikeouts through the first three innings alone.

“Today, I think I got ahead a lot better and utilized my off-speed [pitches] a lot more for strikes,” Peterson said. “At the beginning of the year, I just wasn’t really landing the off-speed very well.”

As Peterson kept the Volunteers in check, the Gators finally broke through in the batter’s box. Leading off the bottom of the third for the Gators, Donay sent the second pitch he saw barreling over the left field berm and onto Hull Road. Later in the inning, Caglianone smoked a two-out line drive past Curley to land at first base.

With two outs already on the board, Shelton took to the plate looking to keep the inning alive. Facing a 2-2 count, the sophomore shortstop blasted out a no-doubt moon shot well past the right field berm and out of the ballpark. Florida had finally found its rhythm in the batter’s box, and not a moment too soon.

“[We] just stayed with the approach, knowing that it’s a new game,” Donay said. “Just like every other day, it’s a new day. You get a new opportunity to have success, so just go at it with all you can.”

Keeping The Volunteers At Bay

After Peterson narrowly escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning, O’Sullivan opted to replace him on the mound with junior right-hander Fisher Jameson. Burke welcomed him into the ballgame with an RBI double into right-center field. Jameson quickly regained his bearings to retire the side, but not before the Volunteers had cut their deficit to 3-1.

As the evening went on, Jameson found his footing on the mound. The right-handed reliever kept the Volunteers off the board in the next two frames, striking out seven batters along the way. Jameson subsequently gave up an eighth inning solo moon shot to Tennessee junior Billy Armick, but quickly retired the next three batters to avoid any further bleeding.

Looking to add some extra padding back onto their lead, the Gators came out swinging with a vengeance in the bottom of the inning. After Caglianone led off the frame with a hard-hit single through the right side, he eventually crossed home plate on an RBI knock down the middle from Kurland.

Racing To A Photo Finish

Now back up to a 4-2 lead, O’Sullivan initially opted to keep Jameson on the mound for the final inning. However, after the junior right-hander started off the frame by allowing a lead-off single to Curley, O’Sullivan sent out freshman Luke McNeillie to take his place on the bump.

McNeillie got off to a somewhat shaky start, throwing two wild pitches that allowed Curley to advance to third base. After striking out the subsequent batter, McNeillie gave up a pair of walks and an RBI ground out that brought Curley home.

The crowd at Condron Ballpark now rose to its feet in nervous anticipation. One-run game. Bases loaded. Two outs. The scene felt like it was straight out of a movie as McNeillie recollected himself. After a long day of action on the diamond, it was now or never time for both of these squads.

Amick stepped back into the batter’s box for mound. McNeillie stared him down as the crowd continued to buzz. He threw a pair of quick strikes to go up 0-2 early in the count. Down to his final strike, Amick sent a pop fly barreling towards first base. Heyman squared up and made the catch with ease. Florida had escaped with the game two victory, and this series was now all tied up at one game apiece.

Up Next

Florida and Tennessee will return to Condron Ballpark on Saturday evening for the weekend series rubber match. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+, ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.

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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