Jac Caglianone pitches against Vanderbilt on May 14. Photo courtesy of Mallory Peak.

Gators Drop Home Season Finale To No. 4 Kentucky In Extra Innings

The Florida Gators’ home season finale felt like an appropriate summary of the team’s 2024 campaign as a whole. After falling behind early on, the Gators clawed their way back into the game and managed to tie things up… only to run out of steam and come up just short of the finish line.

Florida dropped its series finale against the Kentucky Wildcats in a 7-5 extra innings loss on Sunday afternoon. The loss marked the Gators’ sixth consecutive SEC series loss. UF now falls to 26-25 on the season and 11-16 in conference play.

“We went out there and had all the momentum,” UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “If we went out there and put a zero on the board [in the top of the tenth inning], I felt good that we’d come in and score a run, but we didn’t have an opportunity to do that.”

In what looks to be their final outings at Condron Ballpark in the Orange and Blue, senior Tyler Shelnut and junior Jac Caglianone shined for Florida. Shelnut recorded a pair of hits on the day and kept the Gators alive with a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Meanwhile, Caglianone excelled both at the plate and on the mound all day long. The Florida two-way phenom, who has already esablished himself as a premier prospect in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft, threw out six innings on the mound. He finished with a line of two hits, three walks, three runs (one earned) and six strikeouts. Caglianone also recorded a pair of hits to extend his hitting streak to 30 consecutive games, tying Florida’s all-time program record.

Florida’s closer Brandon Neely was credited with his fourth loss of the season. Neely threw out 2 1/3 innings on the mound, allowing four hits, three walks and four runs.

The Wildcats Strikes First

After a quiet opening frame from both squads, Kentucky got things rolling to start off the second inning. Senior Mitchell Daly led off the top of the frame with a double into deep left field. Daly went on to score on a fielding error from senior Jaylen Guy in the subsequent at-bat.

The Wildcats went on to score a pair of unearned runs to close out the frame, courtesy of an RBI single from junior Patrick Herrera and a sacrifice ground out from junior Ryan Waldschmidt. The Gators still had yet to record a hit on the afternoon, yet they already faced an early 3-0 deficit.

Florida finally got on the board with a leadoff single from Hayden Yost in the bottom of the third inning. However, Yost was immediately tagged out at second trying to stretch the hit into a double. Jaylen Guy went down on strikes in the following at-bat for Florida’s second out of the frame.

Refusing to go down without a fight, the Gators managed to load the bases in the next three at-bats with back-to-back-to-back walks. Nevertheless, Kentucky right-hander Mason Moore refused to let the inning get away from him. The Wildcats ace sat down UF sophomore Luke Heyman on a swinging strikeout to leave all three runners stranded, as Kentucky still held on to a 3-0 lead.

Mid-Game Quarrels Arise Between Both Squads

As the afternoon went on, tensions started to flare between the two teams. The drama started after Kentucky junior Devin Burkes reached first base on a four-pitch walk in the top of the fifth. As he tossed his bat, he exchanged words with Florida sophomore catcher Brody Donay.

As Donay and Burkes continued to go back-and-forth, the umpires had to intervene. Eventually, Caglianone retired the side after catching senior Nick Lopez on a swinging strikeout. Immediately after the play, Caglianone had to be held back by his teammates as he had some words of his own for the Kentucky dugout.

In his post-game remarks, Caglianone called Kentucky’s approach throughout Sunday’s game “bad baseball.”

“They’re just one of those teams that are going to try getting in your head, they’re going to try chanting and doing all that nonsense,” Caglianone said. “The fact that it’s allowed kind of blows my mind. That’s just how they do it, and we did it our way.”

Caglianone kept the fire alive in the top of the sixth inning, forcing a pair of quick outs before retiring the Wildcats on a swinging strikeout. But even with their two-way ace dealing on the mound, the Gators could not find a rhythm of their own at the plate. Following Yost’s third-inning knock, Florida failed to record a hit for three consecutive innings.

After six innings of stagnant offense, the Gators finally found their way onto the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh. Shelnut led off the frame with a one-out single into the heart of center field. Freshman Hayden Yost followed him up with a four-pitch walk.

As Florida now faced its first true scoring opportunity of the afternoon, O’Sullivan opted to have Wilson step in as a pinch hitter. Despite his late entrance to the ballgame, Wilson capitalized on his opportunity with ease. The sophomore drilled a double down the right field line to bring both Shelnut and Yost home, cutting Florida’s deficit to 3-2.

Gators Grapple Their Way Back Into The Ballgame

Caglianone stepped off the mound in the top of the seventh inning after throwing out 101 pitches on the day. Freshman Jake Clemente and Neely picked up right where he left off, combining to keep the Wildcats off the board over the next three innings.

Entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Gators still faced a one-run deficit. If Florida wanted to keep this ballgame alive, it was now or never. Shelnut stepped back into the batter’s box with one out on the board and the bases empty. But they didn’t stay that way for long.

On the first pitch he saw, Shelnut let his bat rip and sent a ball barreling into deep left field. The Florida senior couldn’t help but watch as his moon shot soared past the wall and into the outfield berm. As Shelnut trotted around the bases and greeted his teammates to a roaring ovation in the dugout, his home run had finally tied this game back up at 3-3.

The Gators went on to load the bases with two outs on the board, but sophomore Cade Kurland grounded out to second base to retire the frame. Florida and Kentucky were now extra innings-bound for the second time in three games this weekend. But this time around, the Wildcats wasted no time in getting back on the board.

Kentucky Lands The Dagger In Extra Innings

After Burkes nailed a leadoff double down the left field line, the Wildcats loaded the bases via a single from Lopez and a four-pitch walk from Daly. Junior Nolan McCarthy then popped a weak ground ball over to Kurland at second base. Heyman, however, was nowhere to be found to make the tag at first. McCarthy safely cruised across first base as Burkes scored, giving Kentucky the lead.

Things only got worse from there for the Gators. In the next at-bat, Herrera blasted a double deep into left field and over Shelnut’s head to clear the basepaths. After seven straight scoreless innings, Kentucky had abruptly jumped all the way back out to a commanding 7-3 lead.

Not to be outdone, Florida came right back with an action-packed frame of its own. After Caglianone led things off with a single up the middle, the Gators loaded the bases on a Shelton hit-by-pitch and Shelnut walk.

Yost went on to blast a double into deep left field to score Caglianone and Shelton. With the tying run now in scoring position and two outs already on the board, it was once again do-or-die time for the Gators.

But alas, Florida had run out of miracle magic on the day. In the final at-bat of the afternoon, sophomore pinch hitter Landon Russell went down on a swinging strikeout. As the Kentucky dugout roared, the Florida fans in attendance filed their way towards the exits in stunned silence.

Up Next For The Gators

The Gators will wrap up their regular season in Athens next weekend, as they prepare to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. The two SEC foes will take to the diamond for game one on Friday, with first pitch set for 6 p.m. EDT. You can catch the series opener on SEC Network+.

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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