Florida baseball survives late challenge, tops South Carolina in SEC Tournament opener

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida baseball may have had to wait, but ultimately it was worth it.

In a game postponed by five hours and 45 minutes, Colby Halter’s sacrifice fly to center field in the 10th inning gave the No. 7 seed Gators a 2-1 victory over No. 10 seed South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

With the win, Florida (36-20, 15-15 SEC) advanced to face No. 2-seeded Texas A&M in a second-round matchup, with tg first pitch tentatively scheduled for late Wednesday night after more weather delays.

Here are takeaways from the game. 

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Brandon Sproat had no-hitter through six innings

Florida starting pitcher Brandon Sproat delivers the ball to the plate against South Carolina in Game 2 of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday night at Hoover Met.

The first batter right-hander Brandon Sproat faced on the night, Kevin Madden, reached base on a fielding error by UF shortstop Josh Rivera, though the Gators turned their 40th double play of the season on the next at-bat, and from there Sproat was dealing. He had a no-hitter through 6.0 innings before Josiah Sightler singled to right field in the seventh inning for South Carolina’s first hit of the night. 

Sproat’s night was a memorable one. The Pace native tossed a career-high 8.1 innings, striking out seven and finishing with a four-hitter. He's the first UF pitcher to go eight complete innings this season, and it marked Sproat's ninth consecutive outing of 5.1 innings or more. 

"I thought Brandon, that's the best he's pitched here," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I talked to Jeff Cardozo, our radio guy, after the game, and to know where Brandon started from his freshman year to where he is now is just awesome. This is why you get into this profession, to hopefully help guys get better and see the progress that they've made. But he was certainly special tonight."

Nearing the 100-pitch count in the ninth inning, Sproat remained in the game as the Gators looked to close out the 1-0 victory, though the Gamecocks proceeded to double their hit total as his effectiveness waned. South Carolina (27-28, 13-17 SEC) tied the game on the next at-bat, preventing Sproat from securing the win. 

The Gamecocks' starter Will Sanders also had an impressive outing. He allowed just four hits across 7.0 innings while striking out 10 UF batters. 

"Well, that was a good old-fashioned pitching duel," O'Sullivan said. "It's a shame somebody has got to lose that game because I thought both starters were just outstanding."

Late challenge from South Carolina

O’Sullivan turned to Ryan Slater to close the game. South Carolina took advantage of the change on the mound, tying the game at 1-1 on a fielder’s choice by Andrew Eyster that scored Braylen Wimmer.

Slater got the Gators to the bottom of the ninth, where UF was retired in order.

The Gamecocks reached base on an error in the 10th but couldn’t capitalize, giving the Gators another opportunity to walk it off. After Jac Caglianone grounded out to lead off UF’s at-bat in the 10th, freshman Ty Evans doubled down the third base line, and the Gators brought Kendrick Calilao on to pinch hit for Kris Armstrong.

Calilao proceeded to single up the middle, sending Evans to third, and Evans appeared to have an opportunity to head home and score the winning run before he was stopped by third-base coach Craig Bell. It was a moment that the Gators may have regretted, as the throw home was over the head of the catcher. Evans would have had time to head home if he hadn’t been stopped in his tracks. 

Winning play:See UF's Ty Evans score on play-at-the-plate in 10th inning, beat South Carolina baseball

Final play at plate was reviewed

Florida base runner Ty Evans scores as South Carolina catcher Colin Burgess makes the tag but has the ball knocked from his mitt.

Florida didn’t have to dwell on the moment for long, however, as Halter stepped to the plate and lined out to center, sending Evans home for what proved to be the winning run. Initially, Evans appeared to be out at home, but the umpire ruled him safe, much to the dismay of the South Carolina dugout.

The umpire had an angle the rest didn’t — catcher Colin Burgess had dropped the ball after the tag. South Carolina’s review was unsuccessful, sending UF to its fourth win over the Gamecocks in the span of six days.

"It was a bang-bang play at the plate," South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said following his team's loss. "The ball clearly beat the runner but we just dropped the ball. That’s a great summary of life. Sometimes you just drop the ball."

Josh Rivera’s base-running prowess on display   

If it weren’t for a heads-up play by Josh Rivera, the Gators may have been the ones on the losing end of a walk-off Tuesday in Hoover. 

Rivera never hesitated in sprinting home from third, and the throwing error on the shortstop allowed him just enough time to do so. It may have been an unearned run, but it counted nonetheless and put Florida in command in a single-elimination contest. 

Colby Halter comes up in the clutch

He may not have been credited with a hit against the Gamecocks, but Colby Halter still had an impressive day at the plate. 

In the third inning, Halter was walked in his first-at bat, and he’d advance to second on a single by lead-off hitter Wyatt Langford, who had a 2-for-4 day at the plate. After the Gators took the one-run lead, Halter did strike out swinging in his next two at-bats, but he would make contact when the Gators needed it most. Halter’s sacrifice fly to center in the 10th inning was just deep enough to set up Evans’ game-winning score, sending the Gators to a second round matchup Wednesday with Texas A&M. 

The Gators may have had their struggles during the regular season, but the lessons learned amid defeat should only help UF as it continues its push for the postseason. 

"Those scars, so to speak, they help you at this time of the year, and hopefully we've learned our lesson and we have gotten better. And like I said, we've had a lot of moving parts," O'Sullivan said. "We've had to redo our entire weekend rotation, not just one guy, not just two, but we've had to redo our whole weekend rotation. We're very, very young in the bullpen. We've made some major decisions with moving Sterlin (Thompson) in to second and putting Ty out in right field and moving Colby to third."