Florida Gators Pierce Coppola
Jun 19, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators starting pitcher Pierce Coppola (18) throws against the Florida Gators during the first inning at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

College World Series: Gators Advance To Semifinals After 15-4 Win Against Kentucky

The Florida Gators have continuously thrived under pressure throughout the 2024 postseason. Spanning all the way back to the Stillwater Regional, Florida entered their matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats with a 4-0 record in elimination games.

But on Wednesday afternoon, with their backs once again up the wall, the Gators may have just put together their finest performance yet in this year’s College World Series.

Florida punched its ticket to the CWS Semifinals in a dominant 15-4 victory over Kentucky on Wednesday afternoon. The Gators immediately got off to a hot start, scoring seven runs in the first inning to remain in the driver’s seat all game long. While the Wildcats put up some resistance of their own at the plate, it proved to be nowhere near enough to hang in there with Florida’s blazing bats.

Key Performers for the Gators

Jac Caglianone officially etched his name in the Florida history books on Wednesday afternoon. After belting out a solo homer in the seventh inning, Caglianone officially broke Gator great Matt LaPorta’s program record for career home runs. While his 75th career home run didn’t do much to alter the game’s outcome, it gave the crowd and UF dugout alike plenty to cheer about.

Beyond Caglianone’s record-breaking performance, Brody Donay and Luke Heyman led the charge in Florida’s offensive onslaught. Donay knocked out a pair of home runs to drive in five runs on the afternoon, while Heyman finished with an impressive 3-for-5 performance at the plate.

On the mound, redshirt sophomore Pierce Coppola secured his first win of the 2024 campaign. Coppola had initially struggled in his return from an injury-plagued 2023 campaign, compiling an 0-4 record through his first seven starts of the season. But UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan never lost faith in his starting pitcher.

“I thought this was the best Pierce has thrown all year long,” O’Sullivan said. “His stuff looked really crisp. Maybe him not throwing in [Super Regionals] and giving him a little bit of time off helped.”

Coppola pitched five innings on the afternoon, finishing with a line of four hits, three walks, four runs and nine strikeouts.

Florida Fires Away In The First Frame

Kentucky kicked off its morning by plating a run in the top of the first inning. Ryan Waldschmidt landed on first base via a walk before stealing second to advance into scoring position. Nick Lopez eventually brought him home on an RBI single to give the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead.

But by this point, Florida still was far from fazed. Caglianone led off the bottom of the first with a towering single into right. Following a hit-by-pitch on Cade Kurland, Colby Shelton belted out a double that bounced off the right field wall before scoring Caglianone. Kurland landed at third on the play, giving the Gators two runners in scoring position with just one out on the board.

Neither runner stayed put on the bag for long. Heyman immediately brought both Shelton and Kurland home on a two-RBI single into shallow left field to give the Gators their first lead of the day. Florida managed to load the bases right back up via a hit-by-pitch on Ashton Wilson and single from Dale Thomas.

Donay now had a golden opportunity to crack this ballgame wide open for his squad. Needless to say, he delivered. Donay sent the first pitch he saw over the fence and right back into the Kentucky bullpen for a Gators grand slam. By the time the dust had settled in an electrifying first frame, the Gators had already jumped out to a 7-1 lead.

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Coppola Keeps The Cats At Bay

Two innings later, Florida tacked on another pair of runs to its already-comfortable cushion. Wilson led off the frame by reaching first on his second hit-by-pitch of the day. Donay followed him up with an infield single to put another pair of runners on for the Gators. The Wildcats intentionally walked Caglianone two at-bats later to load the bases.

This proved to be a fatal mistake, as Kurland knocked a two-RBI single into the heart of center field. As Wilson and Donay crossed home plate with ease, Kurland narrowly slid safely into second base to push Florida’s lead to 9-1.

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Kentucky managed to get back on the board in the top of the fourth, courtesy of Lopez’s second RBI single of the game. Coppola quickly patched things up to prevent any further bleeding in the frame. The Florida starter sat down back-to-back batters on strikes to leave a pair of Kentucky runners stranded.

In the fifth inning, Coppola saw more turbulence on the bump. After sitting down the first two batters he faced on strikes, Coppola surrendered a two-out walk to Waldschmidt. On the very next at-bat, Emilien Pitre took him deep into right center field for a two-run homer.

Coppola eventually got the situation back under wraps with his ninth strikeout of the day. As he stepped off the mound, Coppola basked in the glory of arguably his finest performance of the 2024 campaign.

“[Coach David] Kopp just told me, ‘What took you so long? It’s your first win,'” Coppola said. “It’s been a long journey, but today, my fastball felt good. I was able to go in and out with it, and just be able to drop my slider in whenever. It’s hard to hit when you’ve got a couple of pitches working.”

Five Runs In Inning No. 5

Entering the bottom of the fifth inning, the Wildcats had garnered some fresh momentum and were looking to spark a late-game comeback. But any remaining trace of Kentucky’s momentum vanished with another swing of the bat from Donay. Leading off the bottom of the frame for the Gators, Donay sent another long ball past the left foul pole and beyond the Charles Schwab Field concourse. Donay’s second home run of the day had pushed Florida’s lead back up to 10-4.

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“Going up in that at-bat, in a big situation right there, you just have to go in and do something for your team,” Donay said. “I tried to just get a swing off early, and obviously, a great thing happened.”

Later in the frame, Caglianone reached first on a walk to give the Gators another prospective run on board. He advanced to second on a wild pitch before stealing third base with two outs on the board. As Caglianone took his lead from the bag, Tyler Shelnut laid down a perfectly placed bunt that dribbled down the left field line. Shelnut ended up safe at first on the play, while Caglianone crossed home plate with ease.

Even after Caglianone’s run scored, the Gators still were far from done. After Shelton secured another walk to land on first, Heyman cracked a double through the left side to score two more Florida runs. Wilson followed up with a two-RBI blooper into right field to tack another pair onto the scoreboard. With their five runs in the fifth inning now in the books, the Gators were all the way back up to a 14-4 lead.

Finishing Off The Afternoon In Style

By the time the bottom of the sixth inning came around, Caglianone was ready to put this game on ice. Facing a full count, he blasted a no-doubt home run directly past the Kentucky bullpen. Caglianone’s historic solo shot all but served as the cherry on top of a statement victory for the Gators. As he merrily skipped back into the dugout, Caglianone had officially claimed the title of Florida’s all-time home run leader.

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When reflecting on what his time at Florida has meant to him, Caglianone affirmed how the team’s culture has allowed him to blossom from a kid out of Tampa into a certified Gator great.

“You have a great group of guys, you know that there’s talent top to bottom on the roster,” Caglianone said. “Honestly, the base thing is really just playing for each other. It’s kind of our motto and kind of what we’ve been running with this postseason.”

Up Next for the Gators

Florida will take back to Charles Schwab Field this evening for a CWS Semifinals matchup with the Texas A&M Aggies. In the first meeting between these two squads in Omaha, the Aggies came away with a 3-2 victory, meaning the Gators will need to beat them twice in order to advance the College World Series Finals.

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on ESPN and 98.1FM/850AM WRUF, with first pitch set for 7 p.m. EDT.

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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