Florida baseball: 3 takeaways from Saturday's 6-2 win against Vanderbilt

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida's infielder Cade Kurland (4) scores off a sac fly from Jac Caglianone (14) in the bottom of the fifth inning against Vanderbilt, Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Condron Family Ballpark, in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators beat the Commodores 6-2. Game 3 is slated for Sunday at 1pm.  [Cyndi Chambers/ Gainesville Sun] 2023

Florida baseball overcame an hour-plus weather delay and an unexpected pitching change to beat Vanderbilt 6-2 before 7,508 at Condron Family Ballpark.

With the win, the Gators (39-12, 17-9 SEC) took the first two games of the three-game series and moved into a tie for first in the SEC East with the Commodores (35-15, 17-9 SEC). The Gators also moved to just a game behind Arkansas and a half game back of LSU for the overall SEC lead after both teams lost Saturday night.

After Florida starter Hurston Waldrep retired the side in order in the top of the first, a deluge ensued, forcing the game to be called at 6:38 p.m., eight minutes after the opening pitch.

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Vanderbilt stuck with starting pitcher Devin Futrell after the one hour, 16-minute rain delay. Florida turned to righty Ryan Slater to start the second inning and pieced together the rest of the game with its bullpen.

"Our bullpen picked us up today," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "What was a tough situation to start the game turned into a positive."

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Florida's bullpen rises to the occasion

After Waldrep's quick exit due to the delay, Florida's bullpen allowed just two runs on five hits over 8 innings to help lead the Gators to the win.

Slater (8-0) pitched four innings to earn the win. Lefty Phillip Abner then allowed just one run over the next 2.1 innings and righty closer Brandon Neely finished the game off with 1.2 scoreless innings.

"We came into the series with a good plan on how to pitch to these people," Neely said. "We just went about it."

Florida's bullpen has been a work in progress for much of the season but has hit its stride of late as players have grown more comfortable in their roles.

"Honestly, just trying to put them into positions to be successful," O'Sullivan said. "Some guys can come in the middle of an inning and feel comfortable. Some guys need to start innings.

"I think having a guy at the back end (Neely) he can close multiple innings. We've got guys like Slater than can get extended like today. Cade Fisher has been good for us the whole year. I think the biggest key is Phillip Abner, gives us another lefty, other than Cade."

Momentum turns in the 5th inning

With the score tied at 1 in the top of the fifth inning, left fielder Wyatt Langford made a terrific over the shoulder catch against the left field wall on a line drive shot by Vanderbilt center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr., saving a run.

The Gators then scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 5-1 lead. After a Luke Heyman single to lead off the fifth inning, Deric Fabian followed with a bunt single, putting runners on first and second. Second baseman Cade Kurland, who homered earlier in the game, was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.

That set the stage for Langford, who belted a two-RBI double to put Florida up 3-1. Jac Caglianone followed with a sacrifice fly to put the Gators up 4-1, and Josh Rivera laced a two-out RBI single to give Florida a 5-1 lead.

"We wanted to come in and attack the opponent," Kurland said. "We got the dugout going and the fans going and we attacked them."

SS Josh Rivera returns, sparks the lineup

Rivera came back from sitting out Friday with a head injury and went 3 for 4 with an RBI and a stolen base.

He also was steady in the field throughout the game, other than a late throwing error that plated Vanderbilt's second run.

Up next

The Gators will conclude their three-game series with Vanderbilt on Sunday (1 p.m., WRUF, SEC Network Plus) in their Senior Day home finale. Caglianone (4-2, 4.91 ERA) will start for the Gators. Scheduled lefty starter Hunter Owen was a late scratch for Vanderbilt. Instead, the Commodores will turn to sophomore righty Greysen Carter (2-0, 3.21 ERA).