Ninth-inning collapse leads to Florida’s first loss of season
Florida (4-1) led for most of the game against USF Wednesday night, but a ninth-inning meltdown led to the Gators blowing a five-run lead and taking the loss, 10-9.
There was plenty to like from UF, including a decent outing from freshman right-hander Yoel Tejeda Jr. in his first-career start, but the late collapse is going to overshadow any positives from the evening. For what it’s worth, every Florida starter got a base hit, and Nick Ficarrotta was stellar out of the bullpen.
Tejeda got the start for Florida and lasted three innings. He had a clean first inning despite walking Bobby Boser on four pitches, but the second and third were tough for Tejeda. He got out of a jam in the second, stranding a pair of Bulls in scoring position, but wasn’t as lucky in the third.
Tejeda started what should have been a 1-6-3 double play, but shortstop Josh Rivera made an errant throw to first and allowed a run to score. The 6-foot-8-inch freshman should have been out of the inning, but he surrendered another run after giving up a walk and a single instead.
At that point, Florida’s offense hadn’t gotten going yet and only managed to score a single run through the first two innings. Jac Caglianone homered in the first, but it took until the second time through the lineup for Florida to add some more runs.
Wyatt Langford hit a long sac fly into foul territory to tie things up in the bottom of the third, and Rivera came through with a single to left-center that scored him and gave Florida the lead. Caglianone was intentionally walked in between the two at-bats.
Ficarrotta was strong in relief for the Gators. He lasted 3 2/3 innings, striking out seven without giving up a base on balls. Ficarrotta surrendered just one run on the evening and limited damage to get out of a fifth-inning jam that started with three-straight singles.
Florida also had a big fifth inning and scored three runs. Dale Thomas, who got his first start of the season at second base, started things off with a double, and Michael Robertson moved him over to third on a bunt single.
Langford struck out looking at three pitches, but Caglianone drove in Thomas with a single to right field. Rivera followed that up with his second RBI single of the day, and Ty Evans singled in a run as well. A double play from Tyler Shlenut ended the run.
Left-handed freshman Chris Arroyo got the final out of the seventh for Florida after Ficarrotta allowed a pair of baserunners. Arroyo returned for the top of the eighth but was immediately pulled after giving up a base hit to start the inning. Kevin O’Sullivan gave him a pat on the back after taking the ball from him, which probably means that he was pulled to fit the matchup against a pinch hitter rather than for poor performance.
Blake Purnell was the third arm out of the bullpen for Florida and got out of the eighth without issue. He did walk USF’s No. 9 hitter with two out but nothing came of it.
Brandon Neely could have earned his second save of the season, but Florida added what it thought was a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Luke Heyman scored after doubling and getting knocked in by Thomas. Robertson extended the lead to five runs with an RBI single of his own, and Langford doubled on a checked swing to put men on the corners. Caglianone drew his second intentional walk of the night, but Rivera couldn’t come up big again despite entering the at-bat hitting .660 with runners in scoring position.
Purnell came back out to pitch the ninth but things went south pretty quickly. He gave up a leadoff home run to start the inning and never recorded an out after an error in right field and walking a batter. O’Sullivan turned to Fisher Jameson next, which turned out to be a mistake.
Jameson struck out the Bull with the highest average on the team for out No. 1, but it was all downhill from there. USF catcher Nelson Rivera singled in a run to cut the lead to three, and then center fielder Jackson Mayo sent the ball out of the yard to tie things up.
Anthony Ursitti replaced Jameson but gave up a two-out triple to blow the lead. To rub some salt in the wound, USF scored what wound up being the deciding run on a passed ball.
Cade Kurland pinch hit for Deric Fabian, who entered as a defensive replacement at third base for Tyler Shelnut, and drew a one-out walk to start a ninth-inning rally. USF ignored him on the base paths, so he easily got to third while BT Riopelle pinch hit for Heyman.
Riopelle struck out, but Matt Prevesk batted for Lastres and singled in Kurland to put the Gators within one of a tie game. Unfortunately, Richie Schiekofer grounded into a fielder’s choice on the very first pitch he saw to end the game.
The bullpen completely melted down after Purnell struggled to start the ninth. Jameson and Ursitti can’t afford to pitch like that when Sully puts them in a tense spot, and he’s unlikely to forget what happened.
The question is whether O’Sullivan will adjust or not. There were several times throughout the 2022 season when Florida made the wrong call out of the bullpen, and there were shades of that tonight. To be delicate, the only way Florida’s bullpen is below average in 2023 is through mismanagement.
The undefeated season may no longer be feasible, but at least Florida has now faced some adversity and can prove itself over the weekend against Cincinnati.
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