Florida baseball staves off NCAA elimination, defeats Sooners to set up decisive Game 7

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida baseball stayed alive and set up a decisive Game 7 with Oklahoma by defeating the Sooners, 7-2, Sunday night in Game 6 at Condron Ballpark. 

The Gators, just 24 hours removed from suffering a 9-4 loss to OU, struck first in the fourth inning with Jud Fabian’s solo home run to left field.

Jac Caglianone doubled UF’s lead in the fifth with an RBI single, only for the Sooners to plate a pair of runs in the sixth on consecutive RBI singles by Tanner Tredaway and Jimmy Crooks.

Sterlin Thompson came across the plate for the second time in the seventh inning on an single by BT Riopelle, reinstating Florida’s lead. 

Fabian added his second home run of the night in the eighth inning to give the Gators a 4-2 lead. 

First game Sunday:Game recap: Florida Gators beat Central Michigan in NCAA baseball regional

Takeaways:Florida gives up five-run lead, rallies in 9th to eliminate Central Michigan in regional

Pitcher Carsten Finnvold (49) gives teammate Colby Halter (5) a fist bump coming off the mound against Oklahoma in NCAA Regionals Sunday, June 5, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark, in Gainesville.

The Gators would score four additional runs before the eighth inning was over, two of which were unearned. 

Carsten Finnvold, who entered in the first inning, remained in the game for the ninth to record the final three outs and secure the victory for Florida. 

Florida and Oklahoma will meet for the final time Monday at 1 p.m. in the Gainesville Regional to decide which program will advance to Super Regionals. 

Here are takeaways from Sunday's contest.

Carsten Finnvold plays role of hero for Florida

Timmy Manning was called on to start the game for the Gators, but his performance on the mound was anything but memorable. His replacement, however, was the “hero” of Sunday night’s contest in the eyes of Oklahoma head coach Skip Johnson. 

Manning opened the game by hitting leadoff man John Spikerman with a pitch, and Manning sent Spikerman all the way to third on consecutive wild pitches. Manning walked the next two batters he faced to load the bases in the first inning – all without a hit. The situation having quickly escalated, Finnvold rushed to warm-up in the Florida bullpen, and Manning, having thrown just 11 pitches, saw his day come to a conclusion with the bases loaded in the first. 

UF’s season hanging in the balance, Finnvold got the Gators out of a jam without giving up a run, much to the delight of O’Sullivan, who was captured on the television broadcast grinning from ear to ear in the dugout after the precarious situation in the first inning. 

"I knew I had to give a start in reality, not a short relief. I knew I had to start to really help my team win," Finnvold said. "Because it's late into this regional, Sproat's out, so I knew I had to really help my team out and give them a lot of innings."

He wasn’t expected to stay in the game for long — maybe four innings, where the Gators could turn to a more experienced arm than that of the freshman from Boca Raton. As it would turn out, Finnvold, who had pitched just nine complete innings the entire season, was just getting started. 

Finnvold retired the side in the second inning, and again in the third. In the fourth inning, UF’s defense kept Tanner Tredaway and Jimmy Crooks, two of the Sooners’ most successful hitters as of late, in check before Finnvold struck out Wallace Clark for the final out. The fifth inning resulted in a trio of pop-ups for the Sooners, though OU did have success at the plate in the sixth with a pair of runs off of four hits.

By then, Finnvold, having already exceeded his previous season-high of 4 and ⅓ innings pitched, was starting to feel some fatigue. 

"Once I got that far, I really wanted to finish it," he said, "because there's not that many opportunities in your career where you can go that far, and I really wanted to finish it."

Finnvold got back to work, retiring the side in the seventh and eighth innings while UF’s offense reinstated the lead. A complete game performance looked to be on the horizon, though one final test remained: the bottom of the ninth. 

"If the leadoff hitter would have got on," O'Sullivan said, "we would have went to the 'pen."

Rather than allow the Sooners a chance to rally, Finnvold again pitched Tredaway into a groundout in Josh Rivera’s direction, and the Gators managed to turn a double play to secure the win after Crooks reached base on a single to right field. 

Finnvold had kept the Gators’ season alive, and the home crowd let him know it. As Finnvold pushed through the seventh-inning stretch and into the ninth, chants of “Carsten Finnvold” had begun to ring out throughout Condron Ballpark.

"I definitely have never experienced something like that in my life," Finnvold said. "It was pretty hard to just contain that smile like in the ninth inning when I ran out and they started chanting my name, I'd really never experienced anything like that in my life. It was definitely one of the best moments of my entire life."

Which is why part of the reason O'Sullivan trusted Finnvold, having already exceeded the 100-pitch mark, to remain in the game in the ninth. 

"It's just like the situation with Brandon (Sproat) on Friday night," O'Sullivan said, "These kids earn the opportunity to finish something they'd stuck with."

It was his second impressive performance in as many weeks after Finnvold held the No. 1-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in check through four innings in the SEC Tournament Championship game. 

Finnvold, who had been left off UF’s travel roster throughout much of conference play, already was a candidate for an increased workload after his showing against the Volunteers. 

“Probably the most difficult thing in my job is to put together that 27-man travel roster. I hate it. You got to post it, and somebody has to stay home. It's gut-wrenching at times because you're leaving home good kids that deserve to be with their teammates,” O’Sullivan said. “This is one of those stories and situations that we'll be talking about for years to come. He's earned every part of it."

Jud Fabian helps power Florida's offense 

If it weren’t for Carsten Finnvold’s performance, Jud Fabian likely would have been Florida’s player of the game. 

The Ocala native had the 10th multi-home run game of his UF career and his fourth this season with solo shots in the fourth and eighth innings, giving him 24 home runs on the year.

With 120 home runs as a team this season, the Gators are 12 homers away from the program record for home runs in a season. Fabian's performance marked a bounce-back in a sense after a 1-of-5 outing in UF's 6-5 win over Central Michigan in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader.

"Maybe Jud didn't have the biggest first game, but all of a sudden he turns around and hits two home runs," O'Sullivan said. "I know people want to see Jud hit home runs all the time, but it's just the game. And when you're able to put things behind you, like the first game for Jud, I think that says a lot of things about Jud."

Sterlin Thompson stays hot at the plate

Sterlin Thompson, projected to be a first-round draft pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, continued his impressive play in the Gainesville Regional.

Thompson had a 3-for-4 day at the plate with an RBI against the Sooners.

Thompson improved to 10-of-14 at the plate heading into Monday’s finale, and he’s now recorded multiple hits in all four of UF’s contests throughout the weekend.

Oklahoma, Florida have decisions to make 

Thanks to Finnvold, the Gators threw just a pair of arms against the Sooners, while OU made four changes on the mound. There aren’t many options remaining for either team, though neither head coach was willing to tip their hand to Monday's starters in the aftermath to the contest.

"I got a cowboy hat at the hotel, I'll just pick a name out and try to figure out who that is," Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said. "Really, everybody will be wanting to throw I'm sure, and that's the good thing about the kids that we got. They're tough kids and they love to play."

O’Sullivan, meanwhile, was asked about the prospect of pitching ace Brandon Sproat against the Sooners, even if it’s in a relief role. It wasn’t something O’Sullivan sounded keen on doing, although Florida’s coach would ultimately discuss the situation with Sproat before making any decisions. 

"I don't know. I mean, to answer that question, probably no," O'Sullivan said, "but if – if, if, if, if – he's going to throw, it would one inning or something like that ... we have to have some other guys step up. It's just really that simple. We've got enough arms, they just have to go out there and pitch. We'll see."