Florida Gators Jac Caglianone
Jun 17, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators starting pitcherdesignated hitter Jac Caglianone (14) celebrates with pitcher Robert Satin (33) after hitting a three run home run against the NC State Wolfpack during the second inning at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

College World Series: Gators Knock Out NC State To Stay Alive In Omaha

The 2024 Men’s College World Series has already been filled with all kinds of thrilling matchups, and the Florida Gators have been no exception to this trend. From the moment when the Gators made their way onto the diamond to when the ball landed in Tyler Shelnut’s glove for the final out of the day, Florida was kept on its toes all afternoon long by the NC State Wolfpack in their CWS elimination matchup.

But just as they have all season long, the Gators found yet another way to prevail. Florida came away with a 5-4 victory in a nail-biter that saw the Wolfpack knocked out of Omaha, all while securing the Gators another lifeline in their 2024 NCAA Tournament Cinderella run.

Key Performers for the Gators

Jac Caglianone made all kinds of history for the Gators in Monday’s matchup. The UF two-way superstar knocked out a three-RBI moon shot in the game’s second inning to break his own record for most home runs by a Gator in a single season. Caglianone’s long ball also tied Matt LaPorta’s program record for career homers (74), all but solidifying his status as one of the greatest Gators to ever take to the diamond.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Caglianone said. “Mrs. LaPorta has reached out countless times throughout the year. [Matt] is actually here now with his kids and family, watching that. It was a special moment for sure. But at the end of the day, I was too caught up in just trying to win. Just keep staying here, surviving and advancing.”

Shelnut also sent out a fifth-inning solo shot of his own that proved to plate the game-winning run for Florida. Michael Robertson chipped in with a 2-for-4 performance at the plate, marking his third consecutive multi-hit outing (as well as his fifth this postseason).

Caglianone met some early turbulence on the mound that saw him pulled after just one inning. Cade Fisher went on to take his place, guiding Florida through the game’s middle innings en route to his fourth win of the season. Through four innings on the bump, Fisher compiled a line of four hits, one walk, three runs and three strikeouts.

UF closer Brandon Neely took his place on the bump in the seventh inning and powered his squad to the finish line. Neely threw out three innings for the Gators, only allowing one hit, one walk and zero runs. Neely also sat down six batters on strikes en route to his fifth save of the 2024 campaign.

Caglianone Crashes The Party

Following a scoreless opening frame from Florida, the Wolfpack managed to strike first early in the afternoon. After loading the bases on a hit-by-pitch and back-to-back walks, NC State’s Brandon Butterworth gave his squad its first lead of the afternoon on an RBI single through the left side.

From there, however, Florida got the situation back under wraps, stranding the remaining three Wolfpack runners on base to retire the side.

Now facing a one-run deficit, the Gators got right back to work in the top of the second inning. Dale Thomas and Brody Donay led off the frame with back-to-back walks. Robertson followed them up with a single into shallow left field to load the bases, allowing Cade Kurland to bring a run home on a sacrifice fly.

With runners now on first and second for the Gators, Caglianone came back up to the plate ready to bring the house down. On just the second pitch he saw, Caglianone blasted a long ball over the right field wall and into the stadium concourse for his 34th home run of the season.

 

As the Florida dugout trickled out to greet a triumphant Caglianone at home plate, the Gators had suddenly turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead.

Going Back-and-Forth All Day Long

Nevertheless, Florida’s three-run cushion did not last for long. UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan elected to pull Caglianone from the mound after the first inning, sending out Fisher in his place. Nonetheless, the sophomore left-hander endured his fair share of bumps on the mound as well.

Fisher hit NC State’s Garrett Pennington with a pitch to lead off the bottom of the third inning. One at-bat later, Alec Makarewicz took him deep into right field on the first pitch he saw for a two-RBI home run. The Wolfpack now had new life in this ballgame, as they only trailed by one run at the end of the third inning.

But Shelnut refused to let Florida’s momentums slip away that easily. In the top of the fifth inning, Shelnut hammered a well-timed solo shot over the left field fence and into the NC State Bullpen. As he cruised around the bases and back into the dugout, Shelnut had lifted the Gators back up to a 5-3 lead.

“There’s never really a mindset that I’m trying to hit a solo home run,” Shelnut said. “It can take a bloop or another infield single to get things rolling. It’s just about having good at-bats in the right places… If it’s a home run, it’s a home run. If it’s a single, it’s a single.”

Keeping the chess match between these two squads alive, NC State responded with some more offensive fireworks of their own in the bottom of the inning. Pennington kicked the frame off with a leadoff double into deep left field. Butterworth brought him home three at-bats later with an RBI double of his own. As the Gators and Wolfpack continued to exchange blows, it became clear that neither squad was leaving Omaha without putting up a fight.

The Gators Outlast The Pack

Hanging on to a one-run cushion entering the bottom of the seventh, Florida pulled out the big guns on the bump. Following a strong sixth inning from freshman reliever Jake Clemente, the Gators turned to Neely in hopes of closing the door on any last-second comeback efforts from the Wolfpack. Even as he entered such a tight contest, Neely knew he could count on his squad to help him finish this ballgame off.

“Everyone is stepping together, stepping up this postseason,” Neely said. “Knowing that I have one of the defenses behind me, and being able to attack hitters and let my defense work… How we’re playing together as a team is what it really comes down to.”

NC State nearly managed to tie things back up in the bottom of the eighth. Designated hitter Alex Sosa led off the frame with a single before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt. Sosa later advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Neely refused to let him move any further from there. The Florida closer sat down back-to-back batters on strikes to strand Sosa at third and keep the Gators in front.

Following a scoreless top of the ninth from UF, the Wolfpack had one final chance to stay alive in the bottom of the frame. Neely, however, refused to let anything through. After sitting down the first two batters of the frame on strikes, Neely forced a pop out to left to officially send the Wolfpack packing. Florida would officially live to see another day at Charles Schwab Field.

https://twitter.com/NCAABaseball/status/1802818942018392569

Up Next for the Gators

Florida will return to Charles Schwab Field on Tuesday evening as it continues its quest through the College World Series. The Gators will play the loser of Kentucky-Texas A&M in their fifth potential elimination game this postseason. Florida previously lost a close contest to Texas A&M in the opening round of Bracket 2 last Saturday.

No matter who Florida ends up playing on Tuesday night, however, O’Sullivan remains as confident as ever in his squad. As the Gators continue to defy the odds and shock the world of college baseball, O’Sullivan could not be prouder of what his players have already accomplished, as well as what they still have yet to accomplish down the road.

“This [year] is a little bit different, but when it’s all said and done, it’ll be one that I’ll reflect back on and feel really proud about,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m really proud of our team, the way they battled… The guys have really fed off each other and continued to stay in the fight. And here we are.”

First pitch for Florida’s Tuesday night matchup is set for 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN and 98.1FM/850AM WRUF.

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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