Florida made it past Central Michigan on Friday thanks to a dominant outing from Brandon Sproat on the mound to outduel the Chippewas’ ace, Andrew Taylor. The Gators won that game 7-3 and earned the right to face Oklahoma on the winners’ side of the bracket for a shot at the regional final.
If Florida takes this game against OU, the Gators will face the winner of Oklahoma and whoever wins the Saturday matinee between Liberty and Central Michigan. If UF loses, the team will play in that early game for a chance to rematch with Oklahoma.
With Sproat used up, Kevin O'Sullivan will turn to freshman Brandon Neely on the bump. Neely has stepped into the role nicely since joining the rotation against Arkansas and moving into the No. 2 spot once Hunter Barco went down. Barco, since we’re talking about him, could be seen on the bench encouraging Sproat with a full arm brace. It appears the Tommy John surgery was a success.
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 4, 2022
Back to Neely, though. He seemed to hit his stride in the final game of the regular season against South Carolina, striking out 10 and hurling seven scoreless innings. Facing Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament, the first time around, was a different story, though. Neely left after 4 1/3 innings and three earned runs. The Gators would get mercy rules and have flipped a switch since.
If Neely has another short outing, the bullpen is ready to go. Nick Ficarrotta is coming off an impressive 6 1/3-inning, 90+ pitch outing against Alabama in the conference tournament, and Blake Purnell is available to eat some innings too. Winning this game is crucial because whoever loses will have to play two on Sunday to force a final tiebreaker game on Monday.
Offensively, Sterlin Thompson broke out of his little slump with a game-tying solo shot in the third Friday night and Colby Halter went big fly to put the Gators out front. Those were two of the hottest bats for Florida at the start of the season (Thompson has been good all year), so it’s good to see them going.
Wyatt Langford struggled against CMU, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Chalk that up to some nerves or pressure and expect him to bounce back against Oklahoma. Jac Caglianone continues to be the best non-redshirt decision of Sully’s lifetime. He drove in three on a pair of hits Friday, and fellow freshman Ty Evans has also been a difference-maker at the plate and in the field.
Oklahoma is a good team. They beat up on Liberty en route to a 16-3 victory, and Gator Nation isn’t forgetful of the fact that the Flames took two of three to start UF’s season off sour. If Neely and Co. can keep the Sooners’ offense at bay, the Gators should have a chance to win this game.
Projected Starting Lineup
[autotag]BT Riopelle[/autotag] or [autotag]Mac Guscette[/autotag]
[autotag]Kendrick Calilao[/autotag] or Riopelle
RHP David Sandlin
RHP Brandon Neely
NOTES: Neely came into college with a lot of hype around his arm and he’s more than lived up to it as a freshman. He took a rare step back against Texas A&M though and could be in line for another tough outing against the Sooners. Neely doesn’t have to be Sproat on Saturday, he just needs to give the team a chance to win. The offense needs to back him up too against Oklahoma’s No. 2 guy.
That guy is David Sandlin, who is coming off a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament. His ERA is over five though, so it’s not all sunshine and roses for Sandlin. After taking the big lead relatively early against Liberty, Oklahoma didn’t need to use their best bullpen arms either, so expect the Sooners’ best on the mound Saturday in relief.
NOTES: This will change in the future once Oklahoma joins the conference, but there is no series history between these two schools. It’d be nice to start things off on the right foot if you’re either club in this scenario.
Follow the Action
FRIDAY (7:00 p.m. EDT)
* Watch links go directly to game feed
Florida did get mercy-ruled last time Neely was on the mound and the Gators faced an opposing pitcher with a 5.00+ ERA, but they’ve looked like a completely different team since that embarrassing loss, including a win in a rematch against Texas A&M. There’s little reason to think UF will take a step back with the way they’ve played, so I’m going with the hometown team by a decent margin.
Prediction: Florida wins, 6-2.
Let us know your thoughts and comment on this story below. Join the conversation today!