No. 2 Vanderbilt handles No. 14 Florida

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

Following a 32-minute rain delay, the No. 14-ranked Gators fell 11-7 to No. 2 Vanderbilt in the first game of the weekend series at Florida Ballpark. 

“The bottom line is we did not do what we needed to do,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “There were some things we did during the game that we did not execute the way we practiced it. You play a good team like Vanderbilt, you have to be prepared.”

When the skies had cleared, Franco Aleman, making his fifth start of the season for Florida (28-13, 11-8 SEC), struggled from the jump. 

He walked the first two batters he faced — coach Kevin O’Sullivan visited the mound just 10 pitches into the game — and would allow two runs and a pair of hits before the Gators could get to the bottom of the first inning without incurring further damage. 

After UF managed just a lone hit, a single up the middle by Nathan Hickey, the Commodores (32-7,14-5) got right back to building the lead. 

A bunt single by Enrique Bradfield Jr., considered to be one of the nation’s top freshmen, would score Tate Kolwyck to make it 3-0 before Jack Bulger’s double to right field brought across two more runs to put Vanderbilt up 5-0. Dominic Keegan’s RBI put the 'Dores up 6-0 before the Gators could get the final out of the second inning and attempt to dig out of the sizable hole. 

Bradfield Jr. would steal second base in the fourth inning before coming home on Keegan’s second RBI of the night to make it 7-0. 

“Guys are getting good swings off us,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got to execute earlier in the inning.” 

The Gators managed to get on the scoreboard in the fourth inning and erase Vandy’s aspirations of a shutout when Kris Armstrong sent a 94 mile-per-hour pitch from Commodores starter Kumar Rocker sailing over the fence in left field for his fifth home run of the season. 

Not to be outdone in any fashion, Vanderbilt outfielder Isaiah Thomas hit a two-run homer in the fifth to put Florida in a 9-1 hole. 

“It’s disappointing. It just felt like once we fell behind two-nothing, we just never got ahold of the game again,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s Florida-Vandy: I didn’t think the emotion was right on the mound. It’s not just Franco, the bullpen wasn’t right either.”

Hickey’s RBI brought home Jacob Young to make it 9-2 heading into the sixth inning, where Ben Specht took over on the mound for UF as the Gators attempted to rally. 

Kirby McMullen, pinch hitting for Kendrick Calilao in the sixth, made the most of the opportunity and hit a two-RBI double deep to left center-field to add to UF’s total. Florida tacked on three additional runs in the eighth inning, but the Commodores would further build on their advantage and ultimately hang on for the series-opening win. 

Having stranded 13 runners Friday night, Florida will look to even the series when the teams return to the diamond Saturday, with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.

“I expect us to come out and pitch better,” O’Sullivan said. “Our offense did what we needed to do, but we’ve got to be sharper on the mound. It’s just that simple.”

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan.