Another Duval Dub: Florida Gators continue their winning streak in Jacksonville over FSU

Wyatt Langford defensive gems, Josh Rivera's clutch homer, make it five in a row for the Gators over the Seminoles at 121 Financial Ballpark

Garry Smits
Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE — Two stellar catches by left fielder Wyatt Langford in the third inning and a two-out, two-run home run by Josh Rivera in the fifth following a bizarre ruling on a strikeout of Deric Fabian kept the Florida Gators’ winning streak against Florida State in Jacksonville intact on Tuesday.

Langford robbed the Seminoles’ Logan Lacey of a three-run homer when he sprinted and leaped to grab a hard-hit fly ball to left-center and Rivera’s third homer of the season were the key defensive and offensive plays in the game in UF’s 6-3 victory over FSU in front of 8,122 at 121 Financial Ballpark, the home of the Floridia Marlins’ Triple-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. 

The 14th-ranked Gators (18-7) have defeated the fifth-ranked Seminoles (16-8) five games in a row in the single-game series held in Jacksonville since 2007, which resumed after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UF has an 8-6 lead over FSU in the series and is 5-3 when the ‘Noles are ranked higher. 

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University of Florida left fielder Wyatt Langford leaps at the wall to rob Florida State's Logan Lacey of a home run during the third inning of their game on Tuesday at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville.

Five Florida pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts but none were bigger than the two freshman Brandon Neely recorded in the fourth when he came in with the bases loaded and Jamie Ferrer (.363) and James Tibbs (.314) coming up.

Neely fanned both swinging and then got two more strikeouts in the fifth to record his first victory. Blake Purnell struck out four in 2.2 innings to get his second save. 

“It obviously wasn’t ideal to bring him into a situation like that,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “A freshman, in front of this crowd, but he made some big pitches. It wasn’t like they were on the bottom of the order. They had some of their better hitters up.” 

The victory over the Seminoles, which ran O’Sullivan’s record in the rivalry to 31-18, was a bit of a tonic after UF was outscored 28-8 in two losses to LSU last weekend, and heading into a road SEC series at Georgia. 

“Huge,” said Langford, who also had an RBI fielder’s choice grounder in the third and tripled to lead off the fifth and scored on BT Riopelle’s ground out. “Especially going into Georgia, on a short week [the series begins on Thursday in Athens] … this is a huge momentum-getter.” 

Speaking of getting, Langford raced across the entire expanse of the outfield to not only rob Lacey but then ended the inning when he sprinted in and made a sliding catch of Alex Toral’s foul pop in short left. 

“It was a long run,” Langford said. 

O’Sullivan was hard-pressed to decide which was the more impressive play. 

“It was an unbelievable play,” he said of Langford’s catch on Lacey’s blast. “I thought it was out coming off the bat. The other one was really hard too. The wind was blowing from left-to-right so the ball is going to come back towards the field and that’s really a tough play. Those two plays made a difference in the game.” 

But the game later hinged on a strange call by home plate umpire Scott Cline in the fifth. 

After Langford’s triple and Riopelle’s RBI ground broke a 2-2 tie against FSU starter Carson Montgomery (3-1), Kendrick Calilao was hit by a pitch and Montgomery got ahead of Deric Fabian 0-2. Fabian then stepped out of the box and Cline invoked a rule in which a strike can be called if the batter steps out of the box prior to the pitch, but doesn’t call time. 

Without having to actually throw a pitch, Montgomery got credit for a strikeout of Fabian. But Rivera then tagged a 0-1 pitch over the left-center field wall for a 5-2 lead. 

“It was a play I haven’t seen but the umpire called a strike,” said O’Sullivan, who was clearly perturbed with Cline’s explanation but was reluctant to question it after the game. 

Rivera said he didn’t understand the ruling at the time he got in the batter’s box but he knew what to do when Montgomery got a slider up in the strike zone. 

Florida State shortstop Jordan Carrion dives for a ground ball hit by Florida's Sterlin Thompson during the first inning of their game at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville.

“I’m not too sure what he called on Deric,” Rivera said. “I guess that was a violation of some sort. I was unaware that could happen but fortunately it came back to bite them. It put me in a position to lock it in and get ready to hit.” 

FSU coach Mike Martin Jr. lamented a game in which the Seminoles had two errors, left 11 runners on base (seven in scoring position with less than two out) and missed the cut off man when Deric Fabian scored from first in the second on Rivera’s double. 

The Gators also got four of their runs with two out.

“It’s tough … some of the young [players] went backwards in certain situations,” he said. “It’s attention to detail. We missed a sign, we would have scored on that, and we missed a cut. We would have thrown their guy out by a long shot if we hit the first cut-off man.” 

The Seminoles, who started two freshmen and three sophomores against the Gators were coming off a streak of eight victories in 10 games in which Martin thought the team had turned a corner of sorts. 

“It’s being able to execute when people are in the seats and it’s loud,” he said. “Things have got to sink it.” 

FSU scored in the second on Colton Vincent’s RBI single and in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Reese Albert. 

The Seminoles got another run in the seventh on Brett Roberts’ sacrifice fly but got only one baserunner after that and gifted the Gators their final run in the eighth when Sterlin Thompson (3 for 5) reached second on a two-out throwing error by pitcher Davis Hare, then scored when Hare unleashed two wild pitches.