Comeback kids: Florida Gators baseball comes from behind to beat Auburn, take the series

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

Evidently, the third-ranked Florida Gators baseball team learned from its heaping of humble pie after its 10-1 series-opening loss to the Auburn Tigers Friday night. That broke up the Gators' winning streak, which sat at four games coming into the weekend.

Florida went on to even the series with a 12-5 win Saturday, setting the stage for Sunday afternoon's rubber match from McKethan Field at Condron Family Ballpark.

After more than three hours and 40 minutes of baseball, the Gators found themselves polishing off the weekend with a dominant, 17-8 win over the Tigers. Florida improved to 24-5 on the season, 7-2 in conference play.

Here are takeaways from the weekend at the ballpark.

Gators' bullpen flexes its depth

Florida's pitching staff started the weekend as the Gators' biggest blackeye as junior Brandon Sproat gave up eight runs before being yanked in the top of the second inning. Considering Florida's Friday starter only lasted 1.1 innings, many worried the Gators' staff of arms would pay the price.

But that was far from the case.

Florida junior Hurston Waldrep got the nod in Saturday's game before working through 6.0 innings, giving up three runs on four hits and striking out 10. Nick Ficarrotta and Brandon Neely also appeared on the bump for the Gators Saturday.

In the series finale, it was left-handed sophomore Jac Caglianone who hit the hill for the Gators and pitched 3.1 innings, giving up four runs while striking out three. Blake Purnell and Cade Fisher each recorded brief outings on the mound.

But it was redshirt sophomore Ryan Slater who recorded the win with a brilliant, 4.0-inning effort that saw the Tigers go hit-less, while Slater also tallied four strikeouts.

"Ryan Slater was just outstanding out of the bullpen," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.

Despite the lump early in Friday's contest, Florida's bullpen combined for 31 strikeouts over the weekend

Wyatt Langford is back

On March 10, Florida junior Wyatt Langford suffered a groin injury after fouling off a pitch against Sienna.

After undergoing an operation. Langford missed several weeks before returning against Ole Miss last weekend. However, Langford struggled at the plate, going 2-for-12 against the Rebels.

But in this weekend's series against the Tigers, Langford, who is affectionately known as the "Trenton Thunder," lived up to his nickname, which pays homage to his hometown of Trenton, Fla.

Langford, who is ranked as the No. 3 overall pick of the MLB Draft by CBS, finished the weekend 4-for-9 and certainly save the best for last. In the series finale, Langford went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a home run. Langford also tallied five runs in the effort − the most of his college career.

"There was a couple of games there that looked like he had just missed a couple of pitches. The hang time on some pop ups or fly balls was seven seconds, seven and a half seconds, so you could tell he was getting close," O'Sullivan said of Langford. "Which you're right, there's no substitute for live ABs and honestly, he had a great day today."

Gators post explosive comeback

Heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, Florida was trailing Auburn 8-3. And then the Gators' lineup found its stride and lit up the Tigers by scoring 14 unanswered runs.

Caglianone smacked a 1-1 offering out to centerfield, good for the two-RBI single to put the Gators ahead 8-7 in the seventh.

Leading Florida's offensive charge was rookie catcher Luke Heyman, who went 3-for-4 while also notching eight RBIs.

Heyman, who scratched across Florida's first runs of the game with a two-out, two-RBI single, also put the game well out of reach when he whacked a two-out grand slam in the eighth to put the Gators out front 17-8. Heyman's big shot was prefaced by Langford's solo home run.

Heyman's eight RBIs were good for a new career high.

"He caught really good today, too. He's doing everything we can ask of him," O'Sullivan said of Heyman. "Obviously, eight RBI kind of speaks for itself."