Gators vs Aggies
Jun 15, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Texas A&M Aggies right fielder Jace Laviolette (17) gets an out against the Florida Gators during the ninth inning at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

College World Series: Gators Fall Short In Opener Against Texas A&M

The Florida Gators have been no strangers to photo-finishes this postseason. From numerous clutch performances on the mound from closer Brandon Neely to an electric walk-off double from Michael Robertson in the Clemson Super Regional, Florida has come away with numerous clutch wins in the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

But that was not the case Saturday night at the College World Series.

Entering the top of the ninth inning trailing 3-2 to the No. 3 seed Texas A&M Aggies, Cade Kurland stepped into the batter’s box for UF with a man on first and one out. Facing a 1-1 count, Kurland cracked a ball off his bat that traveled into deep right field. The crowd at Charles Schwab Field watched with bated breath as Aggies right fielder Jace LaViolette gave the ball chase.

As the ball came back down, LaViolette leaped to make a stunning catch along the outfield railing. Kurland retreated to a stunned Gators dugout as the Aggies fans in attendance went wild. Another Florida scoring chance vanished.

Texas A&M (50-13) came away with the 3-2 victory to put the Gators (34-29) on the brink of elimination in Omaha.

Notable Florida Performers

Robertson led the charge at the plate for the Gators with a 2-for-4 performance, as well as an RBI ground out in the seventh inning. Jac Caglianone and Dale Thomas chipped in with a pair of multi-hit performances.

On the mound, Florida freshman Liam Peterson endured a tough evening in his College World Series debut. Peterson (3-5) pitched 2 1/3 innings on the night, finishing with a line of four hits, four walks, three runs and four strikeouts.

Fisher Jameson and Neely combined for a stellar outing from the bullpen to keep the Aggies off the board the final six innings.

Nonetheless, the Aggies still managed to hang on for the win, thanks in part to their strong start at the dish and the poor performance by UF batters going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and striking out 16 times.

UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said the Gators’ failure to capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities may have cost them the game.

“We had some opportunities, and when you have those opportunities to score, you have to cash in,” O’Sullivan said after watching his squad strike out a combined 16 times. “In one inning, we had [runners on] second and third with nobody out. We needed to get at least one [run], and unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Florida and Texas A&M’s day nearly came to an end before either squad could even hit the diamond. Shortly after the Kentucky Wildcats secured a walk-off win over the NC State Wolfpack, the Aggies and Gators made their way out to their respective dugouts. Within minutes, however, both squads retreated to the locker rooms, as the game was postponed due to forecasted inclement weather.

The forecast came true within an hour of the original first pitch time. By 6:30 p.m. CT, the tarp had been spread across the field as rain poured in full force over Omaha. Eventually, the skies cleared and fans made their way into the stadium following the four-hour delay.

But even with all the pregame chaos and scheduling dilemmas throughout the day, the Aggies found their rhythm in the batter’s box in the second inning. After Texas A&M loaded the bases via a pair of singles and a walk, Caden Sorrell scored the first run on an infield chopper that Thomas failed to record an out on at third base.

On the very next play, Peterson threw a heater that grazed the edge of catcher Luke Heyman’s glove before sailing past home plate. Ali Camarillo took off running from third and crossed home plate with ease, extending Texas A&M’s lead to 2-0.

Aggies Go On Cruise Control

The Aggies made it 3-0 in the following frame. Hayden Schott led off the bottom of the third with a walk. Sorrell brought him home two at-bats later on a double into deep center field.

Sorrell’s knock prompted O’Sullivan to pull the plug on Peterson after just 2 1/3 innings. Jameson eased Florida out of a bases-loaded jam to end the frame.

Jameson kept the Aggies at bay as the evening went on, but the Gators struggled to get anything cooking in response. Florida only recorded two hits in the game’s first five innings, courtesy of Robertson and Thomas. Both batters were stranded in scoring position in their respective frames.

Florida had a golden opportunity to get some runs in the sixth. Cade Kurland led off the frame by landing on first via a hit-by-pitch. Caglianone followed with a double down the right field line to put two runners in scoring position with no outs.

But instead, the Gators came out empty in their next three at-bats. Ashton Wilson and Colby Shelton went down on back-to-back swinging strikeouts before Luke Heyman hit a weak pop fly into right field to retire the side.

Gators Strike Back In Seventh

UF’s offensive dry spell finally came to an end in the seventh inning. Tyler Shelnut led off with a double down the left field line. Thomas followed with a ground-rule double over the left field fence to score Florida’s first run. Thomas went on to score on an RBI ground out from Robertson to make it a 3-2 ballgame.

As this matchup now hung in the balance, both teams sent their primary relief onto the bump in the seventh inning. Texas A&M had closer Evan Aschenbeck take the mound midway through the top of the seventh, while Neely came in the bottom of the frame.

Florida Runs Out of Gas

With Aschenbeck and Neely now in control, the game quickly turned into a primetime pitcher’s duel. Neely made his way out of the seventh by sitting down a man on strikes before forcing a 6-3 double play. Aschenbeck initially struggled as he came back out in the top of the eighth, allowing a lead-off single to Caglianone before Heyman belted a double into deep left field to put two Gators in scoring position. A walk to Shelnut loaded the bases with two outs.

Aschenbeck (10th save) kept his wits about him to keep Florida from scoring. The Aggies managed to retire the side on a Thomas ground out to second base, stranding another two runs in scoring position.

Entering the top of the ninth, Florida had one last chance to make its mark. Robertson reached with a one-out infield single. Kurland nearly gave the Gators their first lead with a fly ball into deep right field that nearly cleared the fence.

But instead, LaViolette gave the ball chase before making a highlight snag against the railing to keep UF off the board. Aschenbeck went on to walk Caglianone before sitting Wilson down on a swinging strikeout to seal Florida’s fate at 2:13 a.m. ET Sunday.

Up Next for the Gators

Unseeded Florida returns to Charles Schwab Field on Monday for an elimination matchup against No. 10 seed NC State (38-22). The game will air on ESPN and 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF, with first pitch set for 2 p.m. ET. Texas A&M plays two seed Kentucky (46-14) in a 7 p.m. winner’s bracket game.

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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