Florida baseball: Three takeaways from UF's win against Alabama in SEC tournament opener
Catcher BT Riopelle made sure Florida baseball wouldn't go quietly in its opening SEC Tournament game against Alabama.
Riopelle's walk-off three-run homer Wednesday night capped a four-run rally in the bottom of the 11th inning, lifting the Gators to a 7-6 win over nine-seed Alabama at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium,
Riopelle launched an 0-2 fastball from Alabama left-handed closer Alton Davis Jr. over the center field fence for his 11th homer of the season. He was mobbed by teammates as he stepped on home plate.
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"I was just trying to get on base for my team," Riopelle said. "I'm so proud of these guys, working hard all year for this. I'm just very blessed to wear this F. This was such a hard-fought game. This is just another one in the book. This is fantastic. This is what I came back for this year."
Florida left fielder Wyatt Langford started the rally with a single, moved to second on a single by Jac Caglianone and scored on an RBI single by Josh Rivera, cutting Alabama's lead to 6-4 to set up Riopelle's heroics.
It's the first time in SEC Tournament history that a team has rallied from three runs down to win in extra innings.
"This felt like, with our middle-of-the-order guys coming up, the worst thing that could happen is we build some momentum going into tomorrow offensively," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "You're down three and they have been throwing strikes all year for the most part. It turned out that we strung some hits together. We do feel like every time we flip the lineup over that we do have a chance to put some runs on the board."
Alabama went up 6-3 in the top of the 11th on a bases-loaded clearing, two-out double by left fielder Tommy Seidl off Florida closer Brandy Neely, who pitched 2.2 innings. Lefty reliever Cade Fisher (5-0) got the final out in the top of the 11th to earn the win.
Florida tied the score 3-3 in the eighth inning when third baseman Dale Thomas led off with a walk, and scored on a two-base error when center fielder Michael Robertson laid down a sac bunt and pitcher Aidan Moza threw the ball into right field.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
An up and down outing for Hurston Waldrep
Waldrep faced the minimum nine batters in three innings the first time around the order before running into trouble in the middle innings.
In the fourth, Waldrep surrendered his first run when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to first baseman Drew Williamson. Waldrep then hit cleanup hitter Andrew Pinckney and Williamson came around to score on an RBI single by Colby Shelton.
Waldrep then walked second baseman Ed Johnson to lead off the sixth. Johnson moved to third on a single by center fielder Caden Rose and scored on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Jim Jarvis, tying the score at 2.
Shelton then chased Waldrep with a solo homer in the sixth, lining a first-pitch fastball over the right field fence to give the Crimson Tide a 3-2 lead.
Waldrep finished his outing allowing 3 earned runs in 5.2 innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts. Of Waldrep's 87 pitches, 54 were strikes.
Shortstop Josh Rivera breaks homerless drought
Rivera broke a 13-game homerless drought with a two-run homer in the first inning. Caglianone singled with two outs in the first inning. Rivera then belted a 3-2 hanging breaking ball from Alabama starter Luke Holman over the left field fence for his 15th homer of the season to give Florida an early 2-0 lead.
With the home run, Rivera tied Brady O'Connell (2019) for the most home runs in a season for a Florida shortstop in school history.
Some execution issues
Florida didn't play its cleanest game. Robertson popped out two bunts on sacrifice attempts. Thomas broke late on a steal attempt in the 10th inning, getting thrown out at second as the potential winning run.
The Gators will need to clean up those mistakes as they progress throughout the postseason.
Florida plays Vanderbilt, a 6-4 winner over Auburn in Wednesday's nightcap. First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.