After a surprising run to the championship game of the SEC Tournament, the Florida baseball team is ready to start regional play, and first up are the Central Michigan Chippewas. Liberty and Oklahoma will square off in the early game, and the Gators get the nightcap on Day 1 of the Gainesville Regional at 6:30 p.m. EDT.
Both teams will be throwing their respective aces. Brandon Sproat has, of course, stepped into the role for the Gators over the last month or so since Hunter Barco’s injury. He’s performed well, but he’ll have to outduel another legitimate ace in Central Michigan’s Andrew Taylor. His fastball touched the upper 90s and he can rack up strikeouts in a hurry.
Florida should be going with its new and improved lineup that features Jac Caglianone in the designated hitter spot and Ty Evans in right field or off the bench depending on the matchup. BT Riopelle has also moved into the three-hole in the lineup and pushed Jud Fabian down to fifth. Both have excelled in their new spots.
Riopelle also played first base toward the end of the SEC Tournament which gave his knees rest but also allowed Mac Guscette to come in and hit the ball as well as he ever has. Kendrick Calilao was utilized as a pinch hitter for a struggling Colby Halter late in a game too, so he’s not totally out of the mix if Florida decides to go with that lineup at any point.
Regional play begins tonight!
🆚: Central Michigan
⏰: 6:30 PM
📍: Condron Family Ballpark
💪: RHP Brandon Sproat
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— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 3, 2022
Hitting-wise, Caglianone and Wyatt Langford have been stellar. Since moving into the leadoff spot, Langford is slashing .420/.547/.877 and leading the team in almost every major offensive statistic. He’s now on the hunt to break the single-season record of 26 set by Matt LaPorta (who was also a sophomore at the time) in 2005.
It won’t be easy, but Florida has set itself up to compete in this regional and advance to supers. Starting things off with a win is crucial, though.
Projected Starting Lineup
BT Riopelle or Guscette
Kendrick Calilao or Riopelle
RHP Andrew Taylor
RHP Brandon Sproat
NOTES: Sproat will go in Game 1 as the de facto ace of the club since Hunter Barco went down. He’s played the part recently with a 1.65 ERA and 4-0 record through his last five starts (32 2/3 innings). The Chippewas have a tendency to swing at anything and are among the top 50 teams in strikeouts per nine innings with 9.5 and 509 combined Ks throughout the season.
Central Michigan’s ace isn’t injured, though. Taylor was named an All-American by several publications as a freshman and has enjoyed plenty of success in 2022. He strung together four-straight games with double-digit strikeouts and only had two truly bad outings this year.
Most of Taylor’s success has come against lesser competition than Florida, but he did hold Miami to one run through 4 1/3 innings in Coral Gables back in March. This will be his first taste of SEC hitting, so it’s quite the test for him.
NOTES: It would be a bad time for the Chippewas to make history, but baseball can be an unpredictable sport and this Florida team isn’t exactly the most stable group. That said, UF is rolling right now and a decent crowd should help fuel that train for a little longer.
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FRIDAY (6:30 p.m. EDT)
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The Gators are incredibly talented, but this is a team that seems destined to choke their way out of a decent run in this tournament. Central Michigan isn’t going to be the one to force Florida to slip up, though. Oklahoma, and yes even Liberty, are to be feared later on in the weekend when someone not named Brandon Sproat is on the mound. The ace steps up and outduels All-American on the other side of the diamond.
Prediction: Florida wins, 3-1.
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