Florida baseball: 3 takeaways from UF's 3-0 SEC opening win over Alabama

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida's pitcher Brandon Sproat (8) reacts to his pitching after six innings against Alabama, Thursday March 16, 2023, at Condron Family Baseball Park in Gainesville, Florida. Sproat pitched a complete game and got the shutout over Alabama 3-0. [Cyndi Chambers/ Gainesville Sun] 2023

Florida baseball (17-3, 1-0 SEC) rode a dominant performance on the mound from ace Brandon Sproat to win its SEC opener, beating Alabama 3-0 before 5,546 at Condron Family Ballpark.

Sproat fired a one-hit shutout for his first career complete game, as the junior righty struck out 11, walked two and hit one batter in 106 pitches. The lone hit for Alabama (16-3, 0-1) came on a single by second baseman Ed Johnson in the second inning.

"That's as good as he's thrown since he's been here," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Bouncing back from last year's start, to be able to do what he did tonight just speaks volumes on where he's at mentally and maturity wise. He was really, really special tonight."

Freshman second baseman Cade Kurland broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the sixth, launching a 1-0 pitch from Alabama lefty Hunter Furtado over the left field fence for his sixth homer of the season. The Gators added an insurance run in the seventh, going up 3-0 when shortstop Josh Rivera singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on a slow ground out to pitcher by Ty Evans.

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"That was huge," O'Sullivan said. "We put a lot of emphasis on base running going first to third with one out and trying to emphasize stealing third base because obviously you get to third with less than two outs you don't have to score on a base hit."

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Brandon Sproat was locked in mentally

Sproat said the key to his dominant performance was being locked in on the mental side. He was coming off an outing when he had issues with his control, walking 3 batters in 4 scoreless innings against Siena.

"Last week I was struggling a little bit," Sproat said. "This week I had a ton of clarity of what I was going to do for myself and for the team, I was just going to go out there and throw the ball as hard as I can, every time."

Physically, Sproat was throwing 100 miles per hour in the first inning and at 97 miles per hour in the eighth, while mixing in his slider and change up. He retired the final 10 batters he faced. Sproat was at 98 pitches in the eighth inning and wanted to finish it off.

"His stuff in the eighth didn't look any different than his stuff in the first," O'Sullivan said. "He earned the opportunity to finish it."

The Gators flashed some leather behind Sproat

Florida made some stellar plays in the field behind Sproat in an errorless game. Rivera ranged to the second base side across the diamond to record a groundout in the third inning. Third baseman Cody Halter made a pair of strong plays on ground outs and center fielder Michael Robertson robbed Johnson of an extra base hit with a running catch in the fifth inning.

Kurland finished the game off fielding a pair of tough grounders at second base in the ninth inning.

"The last play of the game by Cade was a really, really good play," O'Sullivan said.

The lineup is starting to adjust after Wyatt Langford's injury

With Langford out for the next few weeks, the Gators have moved Kurland from the leadoff spot to the two hole, with Robertson leading off.

"I like it at lot," Kurland said. "It gives you a lot more time to get acclimated, and Mike's a great leadoff hitter as well, so I think it works nicely."

Robertson came up with a walk before Kurland's home run. Rivera remained hot at the cleanup spot, going 2 for 3 with a run scored.

"It's still weird to write the lineup without Wyatt's name in there," O'Sullivan said. "Injuries are unfortunately a part of this game and everyone's going to have to go through it. But at the same time, it gives other guys an opportunity to play and it's only going to make our team, the lineup deeper as we go along."