NCAA Stillwater Regional: Florida defeats Nebraska in Game 1 – ESPN 98.1 FM

Many doubted that the Gators baseball team would even make the NCAA tournament, but once it did, the past was forgotten and a new streak of redemption was born.

That’s exactly what Florida needed after going one-and-done in the SEC Tournament against Vanderbilt a week ago.

After traveling 1,137 miles from home to Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Gators were greeted with their toughest arm (on paper) of the season on Friday in Game 1 of the regional against the Big Ten Tournament champion Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Regardless, the Gators took control early for a 5-2 victory against Nebraska thanks to youthful firepower in the form of freshman Liam Peterson and sophomores Ashton Wilson and Cade Kurland.

The challenge

To get the win in Game 1 against the two-seed Cornhuskers (39-21), three-seed Florida (29-27) had to set the tone and dominate early on the mound and at the plate.

Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brett Sears entered the game with a 9-0 record and a 2.00 ERA, so the Gators needed to stack up good at-bats and get him out of the game as quickly as possible.

UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan put the ball in Peterson’s right hand for throwing a team-best 2.33 ERA in May to silence a Nebraska lineup with six different batters hitting .300 or better.

Fantastic Friday

Kurland (2-for-5, 2 RBIs) set the tone with a solo homer to left on the third pitch of the game to give Peterson some breathing room before he even tapped the rubber and it certainly played a role in his performance .

Peterson struck out two batters in the first inning, but Nebraska struck back by capitalizing on a walk with an RBI single to make it 1-1.

From there, Peterson (3-4) settled down by turning up the heat over the next four innings by letting his fastball eat up to 97 mph and tunneling his 80 mph slider right behind it.

While Peterson threw flames, Wilson (4-for-5, 3 RBIs) caught fire for a career day at the plate for the Gators. Entering Friday’s game, Wilson had six hits on the season, including three doubles.

He multiplied that number by three doubles in the fifth inning, the first Gator with three doubles in a game since Pete Alonso in 2016.

In the third inning, Jac Caglianone (1-for-2) converted a 115 mph line drive for a double, which was followed by an infield single by Tyler Shelnut. Wilson then delivered his second double of the game, driving in two runs and giving Florida a 3-1 lead.

Game 1 Box Score

A key to dominance at the dish for Wilson and company was forcing Sears (9-1) off the mound. Sears gave up 10 hits on the season and matched his season minimum of five innings after his pitch count increased to 92.

On the other hand, Peterson shut down the Cornhuskers by pitching four consecutive scoreless innings.

The rookie was phenomenal, striking out seven without giving up a hit after the second inning through the sixth. After a strikeout, Peterson left a 2-2 changeup, which Gabe Swansen launched into the left field bullpen, cutting the margin to 3-2.

Fisher Jameson took over. He struck out one for the second out and then allowed a single, but the runner was later eliminated by catcher Luke Heyman while trying to steal second base.

After two outs in the bottom of the seventh, O’Sullivan turned to closer Brandon Neely for a seven-out save.

Kurland added another RBI for an insurance run in the eighth, scoring a speedy Dale Thomas, who had singled and advanced to second on a grounder, with a single that gave UF a 4-2 lead.

The biggest threat Florida faced came in the bottom of the inning, after Neely gave up consecutive hits with one out and a walk to load the bases for Nebraska.

A loud line to center field, followed by three consecutive fastballs blown by Dylan Carey, stranded the bases for a scoreless inning by Neely that set the Gator dugout on fire.

Wilson capped his memorable day with the first home run of his collegiate career in the ninth. Not only was it gone, but it dented the top of the scoreboard in left field, putting the nail in the coffin for the Gators’ 5-2 lead.

Neely sealed the victory for his third save by inducing a double play, sending the Gators into the winners bracket on Saturday night.

However, one statistic may have O’Sullivan concerned heading into Game 2.

The Gators stranded as many as 12 runners on the basepaths against Nebraska, going 4-for-18 (.200) with runners in scoring position. They left seven runners in scoring position, including two at third base. They left a runner in scoring position in each of the first six innings.

Coming in as the seventh team nationally with 116 home runs on the season, Florida lives and dies by the longball. In the postseason, at every level, the little things like moving runners and having productive at-bats prove the difference in winning or losing ballgames.

The Gators need to take advantage of this and sharpen their productive hitting if they want to make a deep run in the tournament.

Next one

Florida faces regional top seed Oklahoma State (41-17) on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+, ESPN 98.1-FM/AM-850 WRUF). The Cowboys advanced later Friday with a win against four-seed Niagara (38-16). Nebraska and Niagara will play an elimination game on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Gators are expected to take the mound with Caglianone (5-1, 4.35 ERA).

Stillwater Regional

  • Game 1 Friday: Florida 5, Nebraska 2
  • Game 2 Friday: Oklahoma State 19, Niagara 7
  • Saturday | Game 3 | Nebraska vs. Niagara | 14.00 hours
  • Saturday | Game 4 | Florida vs. Oklahoma State | 19:00
  • Sunday | Game 5 | Winner of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 | 14.00 hours
  • Sunday | Game 6 | Winner of Game 4 vs. Winner of Game 5 | 19:00
  • Monday | Game 7 | If necessary

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