Aggies pound Gators in SEC Tournament

The Gators played perhaps their worst all-around game of the year on Thursday afternoon against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament.

Offensively, they mustered only one hit, and it was a softly hit groundball that just snuck through the infield. They struck out 10 times.

On the mound, UF’s four pitchers combined to give up 12 hits and walk four batters. Four of those hits left the ballpark. They gave up seven runs in one inning.

The only positive for the No. 7 seed Gators is that they were put of their misery quickly thanks to the mercy rule in effect for the tournament. No. 2 seed Texas A&M defeated Florida, 10-0, in seven innings at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

“We just didn’t play very well in all phases,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We didn’t swing the bats very well. We had a poor approach. I think we struck out five of the first nine at bats, and I think we struck out [10] times overall. Our approach wasn’t very good.

“On the pitching side of things, we pitched behind in the count an awful lot tonight. Hard for us to get into the flow of the game. I thought the pace was pretty slow to start the ballgame, and we’ve got some young pitchers that got into a lot of 2-0, 3-1 counts, and, obviously, A&M took advantage of those counts.”

Eight of the Aggies’ nine batters registered at least one hit, and four of them notched multiple hits.

Florida’s lone hit came off the bat of Jac Caglianone in the second inning. Texas A&M (36-17) retired the final 10 batters of the game in a row.

“Today, we were all kind of off, it would seem like,” UF catcher BT Riopelle said. “I think our play spoke for itself. Like [O’Sullivan] said, we just have to come back [on Friday] and put our best at bats together and put our best pitches together and put together a win.”

The Gators (36-21) had a chance to grab the lead in the top of the third when Colby Halter reached on an error and Aggies starter Micah Dallas hit Sterlin Thompson with a pitch with two outs. Jud Fabian got four or five hanging sliders in a row with two strikes against him, but he couldn’t do any damage with them. He eventually grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

UF starter Brandon Neely jumped ahead of Jordan Thompson 0-2 to lead off the bottom of the inning. He threw a few breaking balls that just missed the outside corner before firing a pitch into the dirt to walk him.

Two batters later, Trevor Werner got a 3-2 breaking ball that hung over the middle of the plate and didn’t miss it. He sent the ball sailing over the left-center field wall to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead.

Neely worked around a couple of hits and a hit batter to hang a zero in the fourth, but he wasn’t as fortunate in the fifth. Kole Kaler led off with a double down the right-field line, and he came in to score on Jack Moss’ single through the left side.

That marked the end of the day for Neely, whose final line shows three earned runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Fisher Jameson replaced him and escaped the fifth without further damage via a pair of hard-hit flyouts.

Texas A&M activated the run rule in a sixth inning that felt like it would never end.

Ryan Targac started things by crushing a pitch from Jameson over the right-field wall.

Three batters later, Thompson blasted a 1-0 fastball from Philip Abner over the wall in left center to make it 6-0. Dylan Rock later lofted a sacrifice fly to left off of Tyler Nesbitt, and Austin Bost put the finishing touches on his team’s dominant victory by smashing a three-run shot to left center.

Three of UF’s four pitchers were true freshmen making their first postseason appearances. Still, O’Sullivan wasn’t in the mood to make excuses for his players.

“We’re at the latter part of the season; they’re not freshmen anymore,” O’Sullivan said. “They’ve had a lot of experience. We’ve played a 30-game schedule in our league. We’ve played on the road. We’ve played three against Miami, three against Florida State. We’ve played a really good schedule. At this point, I wouldn’t use that as an excuse. They’re seasoned enough. They’re talented enough.

“When you pitch behind in the count like we did today against a talented lineup, these things are going to happen. We’ve just got to pitch a little bit better.”

Dallas picked up the win for the Aggies by striking out seven batters in five innings, and Joseph Menefee accomplished the rare task of getting credited for a save in a 10-run game by striking out four of the six batters that he faced.

“[Dallas] threw two pitches and spun his slider really well in all counts,” Riopelle said. “That was his go-to pitch. We just weren’t on it today.”

Florida will next face No. 3 seed Arkansas in an elimination game on Friday morning at 10:30. Obviously, O’Sullivan wants his team to win the game, but, more than that, he just wants them to play well. He can live with them playing well and simply getting beat by a better team, but serving as a glorified speed bump for 2 ½ hours is unacceptable.

“You can’t really control the outcome of the game, but you can control how you play and pitch,” O’Sullivan said. “So, we’ll get Nick Pogue on the mound [on Friday]. He’s worked awfully hard to come back from Tommy John [surgery]. Maybe we use that as motivation, but we’ve really got to be concerned about ourselves. It’s a collective group. We just got beat soundly today.”

Ethan Hughes
Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and also wrote for for two years before joining Gator Country in 2021. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter @ethanhughes97.