Ridaught: Gators two wins from Omaha

UF baseball Wyatt Langford.
Trenton native Wyatt Langford leads the University of Florida baseball team into this weekend's best-of-3 Super Regional against South Carolina. Langford leads the Gators in most offensive categories.
Courtesy of UAA

Mother Nature did her best to affect both the University of Florida and South Carolina baseball teams in last week’s regionals.

The wind was blowing in at the Gainesville Regional and it was blowing in at the Columbia Regional. 

Based on projections, there is a good chance the wind will be blowing out this weekend when the No. 2 seed Gators (48-15) host the No. 15 seed Gamecocks (42-19) in a best-of-3 Super Regional at Condron Family Ballpark for the right to go to the College World Series.  

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Why is that significant?  

Florida is third in the country with 126 home runs in 63 games. South Carolina is 10th nationally with 115 home runs in 61 games.  

The 126 home runs by the Gators rank second in a single season in program history behind the 1998 squad (132). The 2022 team finished with 121 home runs in 66 games, which ranks third all-time.  

Jac Caglianone (.337 batting average, 84 RBI) has had a super sophomore year for the Gators, leading the nation with 31 home runs. He recently passed Brad Cresse of LSU (30 homers in 2000) for second most home runs in a single season in SEC history behind Brandon Larson of LSU (40 home runs in 1997).  

He has more home runs than other Gator first baseman in program history.  

In fact, each of Florida’s starting middle infielders have blasted more homers this season than any other Gator in the history of their positions. With 16 home runs apiece, shortstop Josh Rivera (.357, 65 RBI) and second baseman Cade Kurland (.303, 46 RBI) own single-season positional home run records at UF.  

And then there’s Wyatt Langford, who somehow continues to “fly under the radar” despite being a potential top five pick in this year’s MLB draft.  

The two-time All-American leads the Gators in several categories. 

He’s batting .387, which is second in the Southeastern Conference behind Dylan Crews of LSU.  

The Trenton native has a .511 on base percentage and a .799 slugging percentage, both of which rank second in the SEC. He’s ninth nationally in slugging percentage, which is actually higher than Caglianone (.779).  

On Wednesday, Caglianone was named one of three finalists, joining Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes of LSU, for the 2023 Golden Spikes Award. He is the sixth Gator to become a Golden Spikes Award Finalist and the first since Brady Singer in 2018.  

“The first thing that comes to mind when I see the three names is poor Wyatt Langford, he gets overlooked at just about everything,” Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said with a laugh when asked about Caglianone being recognized. 

“This guy has got a chance to be one of the highest draft (picks), if not the highest draft pick ever in our program and he kind of flies under the radar. There’s no explanation for it. He’s comfortable in that role but I think he’s just as deserving as anybody. For whatever reason, I don’t know how he flies under the radar, but congratulations to Jac and I hope it works out for him.”  

Despite missing seven games to injury, Langford has totaled 18 home runs, a team-leading 24 doubles, a team-high 75 runs, 48 RBI and eight steals. 

With 44 career home runs, Langford is three from tying former Gator catcher Mike Zunino for sixth all-time at UF while his 24 doubles in 2023 are the second-most in a season at Florida behind Zunino’s 28 in 2012. 

Zunino is the lone Florida player to win the Golden Spikes Award (2012).  

On Friday regional NCAA Baseball Tournament action will kick off at Condron Family Park for the second straight year.
Photo courtesy UF Condron Family Park.

Langford is also very good defensively and has never committed an error across 217 career chances.  

Six different Gators have hit 10 or more home runs this season, which is a program record. Five of those players have 15-plus home runs.  

Despite no favors from the wind, the Gamecocks still managed to hit five home runs in three games last weekend while Florida hit seven home runs in five games.  

Rivera hit a home run against Florida A&M, Caglianone hit a home run in the 5-4 loss to Texas Tech, and he hit two home runs in the 8-2 win against UConn.  

Catcher BT Riopelle broke out of a 0-for-15 slump with two home runs in the 6-0 win against Texas Tech on Monday. Five of Riopelle’s six postseason hits have been home runs. 

Langford also hit a home run against Texas Tech on Monday.  

The Gamecocks have their own young superstar in Ethan Petry, who is tied for 14th nationally with 23 home runs. 

Petry (.374, 75 RBI) broke the Freshman home run record of South Carolina baseball great Justin Smoak back in April.  

Gavin Casas (6-for-13 with six runs scored, two doubles and six RBI in the regional) has hit 19 long balls.  

He’s one of five South Carolina players with 12 or more home runs this year.  

Will McGillis (.300, .767 slugging percentage) hit his 11th home run, while Petry hit his 23rd in the opener against Central Connecticut in last weekend’s Columbia Regional. The Gamecocks finished with 19 runs on 16 hits.  

Braylen Wimmer (.302, team-leading 63 runs) hit his 13th home run in a 6-3 win against NC State, while McGillis hit his 12th and Wimmer blasted his 14th in a 16-7 win against Campbell.  

Carolina hit .357 in the regional with 13 extra-base hits and an on-base percentage of .507.  

But pitching might be the difference in this one, which starts tonight at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.  

Junior RHP Brandon Sproat (7-3, 4.70 ERA, 90.0 IP, 38 BB, 113 K) is expected to take the mound tonight for the Gators, while South Carolina is expected to throw R-Jr. RHP James Hicks (8-1, 3.61 ERA, 62.1 IP, 14 BB, 54 K).  

Sproat tossed six innings in the 5-4 loss to Texas Tech and allowed three earned runs on four hits with only two walks and seven strikeouts.  

“We’ve turned the corner in terms of throwing strikes, which obviously has been a huge reason why we are sitting right here right now,” O’Sullivan said.  

During last week’s Gainesville Regional, Florida’s pitchers were dominant, allowing just 13 walks with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. They combined for a 1.64 ERA and opposing hitters batted just .205 against the Gators.  

One edge that Florida does have will be a sold-out home crowd this weekend, but the Gators will have to guard against getting too hyped. 

“Omaha is right there, like right in front of you, you can almost feel it,” O’Sullivan said. “If you allow yourself to get caught up in that feeling, rather than playing South Carolina, that can really affect your play.”  

Not to mention, Florida’s players might be seeking a little revenge after the then No. 6 Gamecocks swept the Gators in a three-game SEC series back in April (20-22).  

“We can’t get caught up in the moment,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got to keep things in perspective and not get overly-hyped, so to speak, and just kind of do our thing and try and stay in the moment the best we can.”  

On Thursday, South Carolina coach Mark Kingston sized up the matchup.  

“They’re a great team, I think we’re a great team, but it’s just going to be who plays the best this weekend,” he said.  

Kingston said you can’t really take much away from that series sweep in Columbia.  

“They’re different, we’re different,” he said. “We’ve both had time to get better as a team and learn about ourselves as a team so again, it’s going to be a 3-game series, it’s going to be who gets the big hits, who makes the big pitches, and this weekend will decide who goes to Omaha. You can’t ask for more than that.”  

In the first meeting in April, South Carolina didn’t have McGillis or sophomore catcher Talmadge LeCroy (.302, .445 OB%), who are two important pieces of the Gamecocks’ offense, but Florida didn’t have reliever Brandon Neely (12 saves), who has been named a finalist for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award.  

“We’re different, we didn’t have Neely that weekend, and we’re certainly pitching at a different level than we were that time of the year,” said O’ Sullivan, who noted the 24 walks that the Gators issued during the three-game series in April. “That series, whether we had gone up there and won or not, has no bearing on the outcome of this weekend.”  

Plus, Langford was coming back from an injury and was not at 100% during the South Carolina series.  

“He’s been lighting it up ever since,” Jeff Cardozo of the Gator Radio Network said on The Leadoff Show from Gamecocks+. “His last 17 games I think he’s hitting about .450, that’s how good he’s been. The injury, I think he rushed himself back and those who don’t know he fouled a ball off and hit a spot where you don’t want to get hit and actually had surgery and rushed back probably a little bit quicker than the doctors wanted him to but that’s the type of player that he is and he’s definitely back. That’s added so much more to the lineup.”  

Last weekend, South Carolina committed no errors in their regional while the Gators played error-free ball in their five games.  

“You’ve got to pitch and you’ve got to play defense,” O’Sullivan said. “They don’t beat themselves so we’re going to have to be on our A game for sure.”  

Florida is seeking its first trip to the CWS since 2018 when the Gators took two-of-three from Auburn.

The Gators won the opener against the Tigers that year, 8-2, but lost Game 2 of the series, 3-2, before defeating the Tigers, 3-2, in 11 innings to advance to Omaha.  

The Gators are two wins away from a return trip to Omaha. 

“That’s every player’s dream,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s why a lot of these guys came back to have this opportunity. To be this close, these are the most important two games of the year and hopefully we have learned. I think going through the losers’ bracket last weekend will help us from a mental standpoint but you can’t want it so bad that it affects your play. That’s the elephant in the room that you’re trying to avoid. If we play our best baseball, we’re tough to beat.”


Friday, June 9
Game One – 6 p.m. – ESPN2

Saturday, June 10
Game Two – 3 p.m. – ESPN2

*Sunday, June 11
Game Three – TBD

*If necessary

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