Florida baseball opens up regionals with win over Central Michigan

Florida took down Central Michigan, 7-3, in the first game of the Gators’ regional run Friday night.

The Chippewas threw their hard-throwing ace Andrew Taylor, but Brandon Sproat won the pitching duel and went seven strong innings for the Gators. Home runs, as they so often as have this season, put the Gators out in front and the bullpen held on to the lead to advance to the winners’ bracket.

The Chippewas threatened early with a pair of singles to lead off the game. Sproat needed 21 pitches to get out of the inning, but he stranded the runners in scoring position. Kevin O'Sullivan tried to get out to an early lead with some small ball in the bottom half of the frame, but Jud Fabian struck out swinging to leave Sterlin Thompson on second.

CMU stranded two more runners in the second and struggled to pull out in front. Taylor struck out the side despite hitting Josh Rivera, giving his squad another chance to strike first blood.

Shortstop Justin Simpson led off the third with a base hit to right-center, and things got worse from there. Jakob Marsee grounded out to the right side to move Simpson over to second, and Danny Wuestenfeld and Aidan Shepardson delivered hits No. 5 and 6 on the evening to break the tie. Chippewas up, 1-0.

Thompson responded immediately though, with a home run to left field in the bottom of the third. Taylor struck out Wyatt Langford, BT Riopelle and Fabian (again) to get out of the inning. The strike zone was questionable all night, but both teams suffered equally for the most part.

Both pitchers settled in for the fourth, but Taylor slipped again and gave up a homer to Colby  Halter, who hit the ball in almost the same spot as Thompson did earlier. Sproat secured his fifth-straight quality start by working through a pair of base runners in the fifth and setting down the Chippewas in order in the sixth. Central Michigan ran into the final out of the fifth to help Sproat get out of what should have been a two-out jam with men on the corners, and gave him extra life to come back out for the seventh.

Things got easier for Florida once Taylor came out of the game. Garrett Navarra, a two-way player-struggled right out of the gate. Jac Caglianone added an insurance run off him in the bottom of the sixth on a one-out double to score Fabian and make it 3-1. That was enough to send Sproat into Justin Verlander 2012 mode, and he came out pumping 98 and 99-mph fastballs with 96 pitches already under his belt in the seventh.

After losing Simpson to a walk on a full count, Sproat called off Sully and demanded a chance to finish the inning. He’d get it done in two more pitches with a line out to left. Sproat’s final line: 7.0 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 114 total pitches.

For a guy that was struggling to settle into the No. 2 spot when Hunter Barco went down, Sproat has been every bit of the ace Florida needed. Battling through a rough start and holding CMU to one run through seven innings is almost a metaphoric start for his season. Florida needed an ace to beat Taylor, and Sproat answered the call.

Ryan Slater pitched the final two innings for UF, and it was a roller coaster of a finish. A leadoff single in the eighth proved to be harmless, but things got scary after Slater loaded the bases on two hit batters. He induced the second swinging strikeout of the inning, and Florida sat three outs away from a date with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Caglianone drove in two more runs with a single in the bottom of the eight to make it 5-1, and Navarra’s night came to a close. Ryan Insco came in to face two batters and then handed the ball to Jake Jones who gave up a two-run double to Halter. Langford struck out for the third time to cap off an uncharacteristic 0-5 night, but the 7-1 lead was more than enough for Slater to close things out.

CMU score two more runs in the ninth, but Slater didn’t need any relief and Florida saved another arm for tomorrow’s matchup against Oklahoma at 7 p.m. EDT. Central Michigan plays an elimination game against Liberty early on in the day. The winner of that game will play another elimination game against the loser of Florida-Oklahoma.

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