Florida baseball: Three takeaways from UF's 5-2 SEC clinching win against Kentucky

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Sophomore lefty Jac Caglianone fired seven shutout innings, leading Florida to a 5-2 win over Kentucky on Saturday at Kentucky Proud Park.

A regular season of high points and low points ended with Florida winning an SEC baseball championship.

The Gators (42-13, 20-10 SEC) are co-champions with Arkansas after the stars aligned in their favor on Saturday afternoon. Florida first did its part by beating Kentucky 5-2 behind a stellar start from lefty Jac Caglianone.

The Gators also needed LSU to lose to Georgia and Vanderbilt to lose to Arkansas on Saturday to get a share of the league title. Both happened. Georgia downed LSU 9-5 and Vanderbilt edged Arkansas 7-6, dropping the Hogs to 20-10 in the conference. LSU finished league play with a 19-10 record.

"When we got off the bus (Friday) night, my message was to them, tomorrow is going to be extremely difficult. We can't control what the other teams are going to do as far as us having a chance to win the SEC Championship," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "The goal today was to come in and win a series and to get some momentum going into Hoover ...

"I'm awfully proud of this group and what they've accomplished this year."

The Gators won their 16th league title in school history and first since 2018, which also was the last year that Florida reached the College World Series. Florida has set itself up to host an NCAA Tournament regional and super regional with its late-season surge. The Gators have won five of their last six against Vanderbilt and Kentucky and won eight of 10 SEC series this season.

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Overall, Florida's 42 regular-season wins are the second-most in program history, behind just the 2018 squad, which won 44 regular-season games.

The win also secured Florida the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. Florida will begin tournament play on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET in Hoover, Alabama, against the winner of Tuesday's game between 8 seed Kentucky and 9 seed Alabama.

Caglianone (6-2) pitched seven shutout innings to lift Florida to the win over Kentucky. With the game scoreless in the seventh inning, the Gators rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh, taking the lead on a sac fly by catcher BT Riopelle, RBI single by Luke Heyman and pinch-hit two-run homer from third baseman Dale Thomas to go up 4-0.

Kentucky cut Florida's lead to 4-1 in the eighth on a solo homer from shortstop Grant Smith, his third of the series. But the Gators got the run back in the ninth when Heyman belted his ninth homer of the season, a towering solo shot to center field.

Righty closer Brandon Neely finished off the game for the Gators, allowing a run in the ninth in a non-save situation.

Here are three takeaways from the win over Kentucky:

Caglianone in control

Caglianone tossed a career-high seven innings and had Kentucky batters off-balance all afternoon, allowing just four hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. Of Caglianone's 100 pitches, 62 went for strikes, while maintaining velocity at 95-96 mph.

In the second inning, Caglianone also helped himself with a nifty defensive play, shoveling the ball home with his glove to get Kentucky catcher Devin Burkes out at the plate on an attempted squeeze bunt play.

The 6-foot-5 Caglianone is 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA over his last two starts with 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched.

Bottom of order delivers

A day after going 1-for-10, Florida's 7-8-9 hitters were much better on Saturday. Heyman, Colby Halter, Dale Thomas and Michael Robertson went a combined 3-for-11 with 3 RBIs.

Heyman delivered a two-out RBI single in the seventh, scoring Tyler Shelnut, to put the Gators up 2-0. O'Sullivan then pinch-hit Halter from Thomas, who belted an opposite-field shot to right-center for his first home run of the season.

 "That's another good story.," O'Sullivan said. "He's a great teammate. He's on every pitch of the game from start to finish. Once again, he's a hard worker and once he got the opportunity, he certainly delivered."

Small ball gets Florida rally started in the seventh

The Gators generated their first run of the game without an out in the top of the seventh. Caglianone led off the inning with a walk from Kentucky starter Austin Strickland, stole second and moved to third on a sac bunt by shortstop Josh Rivera.

Riopelle then lofted a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field to put Florida up 1-0.

The ability to manufacture runs will become more important if Florida hopes to advance deep into the postseason.