Gators Jac Caglianone
Jac Caglianone powered the Gators to victory against the Clemson Tigers in Game 1 of their Super Regionals matchup on June 8. [Photo by John Paternoster/FloridaGators.com]

Clemson Super Regional: Gators Explode In Batter’s Box To Take Game 1

The Florida Gators have strung together a Cinderella-esque run through the early stages of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

Coming off an impressive upset victory over the No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Stillwater Regional, Florida entered this weekend’s Clemson Super Regional viewed as sizable underdog against the No. 6 national seed Clemson Tigers.

The Gators kept the magic alive with a 10-7 Game 1 win Saturday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Game 1 Box Score

Entering the fifth inning facing a 4-2 deficit, Florida drove in seven runs in the frame for a 9-4 lead to take control of the game. The Gators (33-28) are now just one win away from punching their ticket to Omaha for the College World Series, their 14th berth in program history and ninth time under coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

“I just felt like if we could hold it together and get a couple of guys on, one of our players could run into a ball,” O’Sullivan said. “And Jac [Caglianone] obviously did that. Once we got the lead at 5-4, I think our guys finally settled in.”

Key Performers for Florida

Caglianone proved himself once more as one of the best players in the country Saturday. The two-way superstar blasted a three-run homer in the fifth to put Florida in front for the rest of the afternoon. Tyler Shelnut and Luke Heyman each sent out a long ball as well, while Dale Thomas chipped in with a 2-for-5 performance at the plate.

On the mound, freshman standout Liam Peterson’s recent hot streak came to a screeching halt against the Tigers (44-15). Peterson only lasted one inning, finishing with a line of three hits, four walks and three runs. Fisher Jameson (5-0) took over from there, helping to guide Florida to the finish line.

Jameson compiled a line of four hits, one walk and three runs  across four innings. Brandon Neely went on to close the door on the Tigers for his fourth save. Neely held Clemson to one hit, one walk and zero runs in the final four innings, all while tallying seven strikeouts.

Rocky Start For Gators

Clemson got to work in the opening frame. Peterson had trouble finding the strike zone in tossing 44 pitches in the bottom of the first inning. Alden Mathes opened things for the Tigers with a single before advancing to third base on a pair of walks.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Peterson sailed a pitch over Heyman’s head and past the home plate umpire. As Heyman scrambled for the ball, Mathes cruised across the plate. Clemson had taken its first lead of the game on a wild pitch from Peterson.

Florida’s freshman starter struggled to regain his composure. Peterson walked the following two batters to allow another Tigers run and a 2-0 lead.

Jarren Purify led off the Clemson second with a triple into right field. He went on to score via a wild pitch one play later, prompting O’Sullivan to pull Peterson.

Trading Blows

Refusing to let the game get away from them, the Gators responded with a run in the third. Cade Kurland led off the frame with a walk before advancing to third on a deep single from Caglianone. Ashton Wilson brought Kurland home on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.

While Florida looked to crawl back into the game, however, the Tigers kept on churning away in the batter’s box. Jimmy Obertop led off the third inning with a moon shot over the left field wall. As Obertop greeted his teammates at home plate, Clemson’s lead had grown back out to 4-1.

Shelnut came right back with his 15th home run of the season in the fourth. Facing a 1-2 count, Shelnut blasted the ball past the left field grandstand to cut Florida’s deficit back down to 4-2.

Caglianone Blasts It Open For Florida

One inning later, the Gators finally broke through for their first lead. After a leadoff walk from Michael Robertson and single from Kurland, Florida had two runners on board as Caglianone stepped up to the dish. He let the first pitch he saw fly past him before launching a ball into deep left field.

As soon as the ball left Caglianone’s bat, he paused to watch it soar through the air before tossing his bat to the side. The ball managed to clear the grandstand before landing in the parking lot for Caglianone’s 32nd home run of the season. With on swing, the Gators had gone from a 4-2 deficit to a 5-4 lead.

“He floated a slider in there on the first pitch… I knew he wasn’t going to double up,” Caglianone said. “He had been throwing his heater a lot this outing. I was just on time and ready for it.”

Following Caglianone’s clutch home run, Florida put the pedal to the metal. Wilson and Colby Shelton landed on base via back-to-back walks in the subsequent two plate appearances. Heyman followed with a single to put Shelton on second base and bring Wilson home.

Shelton went on to score via a fielder’s choice that saw Dale Thomas safely land at first base, while Heyman made it home on a sacrifice bunt from Brody Donay. Robertson closed out Florida’s breakthrough frame with an RBI single to score Thomas, giving the Gators a 9-4 lead.

Too Little, Too Late For Tigers

Even with the tides of momentum now in Florida’s favor, the Tigers kept fighting In the bottom of the fifth, Tristan Bissetta sent the first pitch he saw over the right field wall for a solo home run to cut Clemson’s deficit to 9-5.

One inning later, the Tigers landed runners on first and third with no outs, prompting O’Sullivan to bring in Neely for a 12-out save. The Tigers went on to score a pair of runs charged to Jameson via a sacrifice fly and groundout. Neely prevented any further bleeding from there, allowing Florida to hold on to a 9-7 lead.

Neely went on to tame the Tigers in the game’s waning innings. After retiring the Tigers on a double play in the seventh, the UF closer sat down three consecutive batters on strikes in the eighth to keep Clemson off the board.

Earlier in the regular season, Neely started six games for the Gators. He credits his tenure in the starting rotation as a crucial factor in his ability to close out games over multiple innings.

“Coming into Florida, I used to be a starter, and this year, I got some starts also,” Neely said. “Being able to run the pitch count up and switching back into the closer role has … definitely helped me to be long relief.”

Gators Wrap Up Game 1

Entering the final frame with the two-run lead, Florida finally got back in the scoring column in the top of the ninth. Heyman belted a no-doubt home run nearly 100 feet past the left foul pole and onto Jervey Meadows. Heyman’s 16th home run served as the final nail in the coffin for Florida’s Game 1 victory.

Up Next

Florida, the designated home team, and Clemson will return to Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Sunday afternoon for Game 2 of the Super Regional. While the hype around the Gators has continued to build as they continue their run through the NCAA Tournament, Caglianone made it clear the team remains focused on one thing: keeping the season alive.

“[We] don’t care about the outside stuff,” Caglianone said. “Really, I just want to keep winning ballgames as long as I can with this team.”

The game will be broadcast on ESPN and 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF, with first pitch set for 2:30 p.m. Clemson is expected to start right-hander Aidan Knaak (5-1, 2.96 ERA), while UF goes with Caglianone (5-2, 4.57).

If necessary, the teams play a third game Monday to determine the Clemson Super Regional champion.

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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