A winning start: Florida baseball bests Central Michigan, setting up NCAA matchup with Oklahoma

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida baseball received another impressive performance on the mound from ace Brandon Sproat, and the Gators defeated Central Michigan, 7-3, in Game 2 of the NCAA Regional at Condron Ballpark. 

With the victory, the Gators (40-22) advance to face Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed in the region, on Saturday nigh. The Sooners (38-20) defeated No. 3 seed Liberty, 16-3, in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. 

Danny Wuestenfeld’s single in the third inning scored shortstop Justin Simpson for the first inning of the night, putting Central Michigan (42-18) in front over Florida.

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Gators come charging back

Sterlin Thompson’s 11th home run of the season pulled the Gators even with the Chippewas in the bottom of the third, and Colby Halter’s home run to left center in the fifth inning gave Florida a 2-1 advantage.

“The first game of the regional is just different. You can feel the anxiety, maybe the nervousness, whatever it might be,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, “and I think Sterlin’s home run was big for us, to tie the ball game.”

A double by freshman Jac Caglianone extended Florida’s lead to 3-1, and Caglianone would bring two additional runs across the plate in the eighth inning with an RBI single.

Two batter later, Halter returned to the plate and delivered a single to deep right-center field, scoring Kendrick Calilao and Corey Robinson to give the Gators a six-run lead heading into the final frame. 

Ryan Slater remained in the game for the ninth inning to close the game for the Gators, and the Chippewas managed to plate a pair of runs off of Slater, making the eighth inning all the more decisive for UF.

O'Sullivan said of the Sooners: "They’re obviously playing really well, we’re playing well. We’re gonna have to play our best baseball like we did tonight.”

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s contest.

Brandon Sproat has another strong outing for Gators

Florida pitcher Brandon Sproat (8) reacts after striking out a Central Michigan player June 3, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark, in Gainesville.

In his previous outing, Sproat pitched a UF career-high 8.1 innings in UF’s 2-1 win in 10 innings over South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Tournament. With the Gators now in the postseason, Sproat was called upon to start, and he once again held the opposition in check. 

Sproat tossed 114 pitches, including 80 strikes, across 7.0 innings against Central Michigan. He allowed just one run on nine hits while striking out six batters. 

“He was outstanding tonight, and he needed to be,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a game that I knew we needed to play clean, and Brandon has been outstanding for a good part of the season.”

After Sproat recorded the second out of the sixth inning, O’Sullivan exited the dugout and started toward the mound, and it appeared as if Sproat’s day would come to a close before the conclusion of the sixth inning. But Sproat, along with catcher BT Riopelle, implored O’Sullivan to leave Sproat in the game. His pleas worked, and Sproat remained in the game for two more pitches to record the final out. 

“Me and BT were on the same page there, I didn’t want to come out. BT didn’t want me to come out,” Sproat said of his message to O’Sullivan. “He (O’Sullivan) got up on the mound and I was like ‘don’t you do it. He goes ‘I’m not taking you out, you’ve earned this spot,’ then when he walked off and everyone started going crazy. That fired me up. That was awesome.”

Ryan Slater took over for Sproat in the seventh and with the Gators clinging to a two-run lead. Sproat improved to 9-4 on the season with his victory against Central Michigan. 

Colby Halter provides boost late in lineup

The Gators' Colby Halter (5) finishes rounding bases after home run in the bottom of the fifth inning against Central Michigan in the NCAA regional June 3, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark, in Gainesville.

Moving Halter to the nine-hole spot in Florida’s batting order continues to pay off for O’Sullivan and the Gators. 

Halter went 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBI, including a home run in the fifth inning to put the Gators in front, 2-1. Halter’s home run put the 2022 Gators in elite company, too.

“Colby Halter was outstanding tonight,” O’Sullivan said, “with his home run and double late.”

His shot to left-center field marked UF’s 112th home run of the season, tying the Gators for 2nd most in a season in program history. 

Jac Caglianone's NCAA tournament debut

Caglianone had a performance to remember in his first collegiate NCAA Tournament appearance. He tied Halter with a game-high 3 RBI, all between the sixth and eighth innings to stretch UF’s lead from 2-1 to 5-1 in the penultimate frame.

“He has been great,” O’Sullivan said of Caglianone. “He is one of the few guys that can beat the shift, and quite honestly he is the strongest guy on the baseball field. He has given us a lift and obviously he had two really big at-bats tonight.”