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Florida Gators Chomp Kentucky, Send Wildcats Home With 15-4 Win

 Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network  |    Jun 19th, 2024 3:32pm EDT

OMAHA, Neb. –┬áTrailing before they had a chance to pick up a bat, the Florida Gators chomped down as hard as they could on the Kentucky Wildcats, taking a 15-4 win in a morning game to stave off elimination at the College World Series Wednesday.

The Gators, a scrappy team that survived the Stillwater, Okla. regional by winning three consecutive elimination games and then went on the road to sweep the Clemson Super Regional, improved to 36-29 with the win, while Kentucky was eliminated, finishing the season 46-16 after going 1-2 in their first trip to the College World Series.

Brody Donay had two homers for Florida, including a grand slam, scored three runs and drove in five in the romp.

After reaching on a five-pitch walk, Kentucky leadoff man Ryan Waldschmidt took a big lead off first during Nick Lopez’ at-bat; Florida pitcher Pierce Coppola made a great pickoff move, throwing to first as Waldschmidt broke for second, but Waldschmidt slid into second with a stolen base when the throw from Gators first baseman Jac Caglianone hit Waldschmidt in the back. He scored four pitches later when Lopez singled to right, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.

But the Gators bit back hard in the bottom of the first, starting with a single by Jac Caglianone to right field. With Caglianone on second and Cade Kurland on first, Colby Shelton doubled to right to score Caglianone and tie the game. Then Luke Heyman followed with a two-run single, and it was 3-0 Florida.

After Kentucky starter Dominic Niman hit Ashton Wilson with a pitch, his second hit batsman of the morning, Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione brought Cameron O’Brien out of the bullpen to stanch the bleeding. Niman lasted just .1 inning, allowing three runs on three hits, striking out one, and hitting two batters.

But the Gators only chomped down harder.

Dale Thomas singled to load the bases, and then Brody Donay launched a high fly ball on a 3-0 count that just kept going until it scraped the back of the right field wall and landed in the Kentucky bullpen for a grand slam, giving Florida a 7-0 lead at the end of the first inning.

In the bottom of the third, the Gators chewed up Wildcats reliever Robert Hogan for two more runs when Cade Kurland’s bases-loaded single sent Wilson and Donay in to score and make it 9-1 Florida.

The Wildcats scratched at the Florida lead in the top of the fourth, getting a run when Nick Loepez’ RBI single scored Emilien Pitre, and then got two more in the top of the fifth when Emilien Pitre hit a two-run homer to right, making it 9-4.

But they’d get no closer. After Florida starter Pierce Coppola handed off the ball, having thrown five innings and allowing four runs on four hits with nine strikeouts, Gators relievers Jake Clemente and Alex Philpott locked it down for four innings, allowing just two runners to reach base over the final four innings.

“I just told Jake, listen, keep your pitch count around 30 so you’ll be able to help us tonight in some capacity,” said Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “And Alex, he did the same thing. And I was really pleased with how they both threw because sometimes you can get a little sloppy when you get a big lead, but they both did exactly what we asked them to do. I thought both of them looked extremely comfortable.”

Continuing to feast on the Wildcats pitching, Florida added five more runs in the fifth, starting with Donay’s solo homer to lead off the inning. Shelnut singled home Caglianone, who reached base on a walk, and after Shelton drew a free pass, Heyman doubled home Shelnut and Shelton. Wilson singled home Heyman for a 14-4 lead before Dale Thomas struck out to end another inning where the Gators batted around.

They added another in the sixth when Caglianone hit his 35th homer of the year.

“When we play for this team, everyone’s committed to the same goal and wanting to win,” Donay said. “And everybody coming out and competing their butts off just means a lot. And kind of shows what we all want at the end of the day.”

In all, Florida’s offense produced 15 runs on 14 hits, drew four walks, and hit three homers.

Florida will play Texas A&M at 7 p.m. EDT tonight, with right hander Liam Peterson starting on the mound for the Gators. The Aggies took the three-game regular season series two games to one in Gainesville, Fla., March 16-18 and beat Florida 3-2 on June 15 in the College World Series opener for both teams.

If Texas A&M wins the nightcap, they will advance to the best-of-three championship series, which begins on Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT. If Florida wins the nightcap, they will face Texas A&M on Thursday in an elimination game at a time to be determined. Each matchup of the CWS will be on ESPN.

“We’ll be ready to play, and I know our players are excited they’ve got another chance to play another game,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll go home, get off our feet for a little bit and come back and look forward to playing again.”

Dylan Widger, Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

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Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network