Florida definitely remembered to bring the bats when packing for the week in Hoover. In the 2-0 winners bracket game of the SEC Tournament against No. 10-seeded Alabama, the sixth-seeded Gators cracked 14 base hits. It took six innings to break a 0-0 tie, but when it began to rain for UF, it poured.
Owing in part to a pair of home runs that jump-started the offense, Florida took down the Crimson Tide 7-2 to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday. It was UF’s first 3-0 tournament start since 2006.
A single off Jud Fabian with two outs was all the Gators managed in the first inning off Alabama’s Dylan Smith. At the bottom of the frame, Franco Alemán gave up a leadoff single but bounced back with two groundouts (one which turned two) to get out of the inning.
Kendrick Calilao singled to lead off the second inning, but a flyout from Sterlin Thompson and a groundout double-play from Josh Rivera ended the threat. Alemán started the bottom of the inning by hitting the leadoff batter, but he put away the next three with the help of a pair of strikeouts.
With two outs in the top of the third, Florida strung together a string of hits from Jacob Young and Nate Hickey, but a strikeout from Fabian stranded both of them. Alabama got its own two-out threat going at the bottom of the third as Peyton Wilson hit his second single of the game, but he was picked off at first by Alemán to end the inning.
Smith continued to be sharp in the fourth. He gave up a two-out hit to Thompson but was otherwise unblemished as the shutout continued despite UF’s five hits. Alemán started the bottom of the frame by hitting a Crimson Tide batter in the foot, and though he followed it with two groundouts, ‘Bama advanced William Hamiter to third. It couldn’t get the first run on the board, though, as a flyout ended the inning.
Florida couldn’t mount a challenge of its own, though, as Smith retired the UF side in order in the fifth. Alemán gave up another hit in the bottom of the inning, but he continued to play strong as he had thrown just 54 pitches to that point.
With the meat of their lineup up to start the sixth, the Gators were finally able to put something on the scoreboard. On the first pitch of the inning, Hickey crushed a bomb to deep center that went over the wall for his ninth homer of the year, and it gave Florida a 1-0 lead. Smith put away the next three to end the inning, but the damage had already been done.
Alabama tried to get that run back as Wilson led off with his third hit of the day in the bottom of the sixth, and a groundout advanced him to second. The Crimson Tide nearly scored a run on a full count with two outs, as Zane Denton hit a deep ball to right field that was just a few inches shy of being an RBI double. But it was called foul, and though Alemán ended up walking Denton, Wilson tried to steal third and was thrown out to end what was perhaps the Tide’s best threat of the game to that point.
Florida’s leadoff offense returned in the seventh, as Thompson landed a double just in front of diving Alabama center fielder Caden Rose. A sac-fly from Rivera advanced him to third, and Cory Acton came through with an RBI double that landed just barely fair in left field and brought Thompson home to give the Gators a two-run advantage.
But UF wasn’t done yet. Acton stole third, and a groundout from Mac Guscette allowed him to come across. With the top of the order up, Young hit the second dinger of the day for Florida to put it up 4-0. A groundout from Hickey finally ended the inning (and the game for Smith, who pitched seven innings and allowed nine hits and four earned runs while striking out six).
Alemán gave up just one hit in the bottom of the seventh, and against new pitcher Jake Eddington at the top of the third, Florida put runners at the corners with one out after a walk against Fabian and a single from Calilao that bounced out of the glove of the Alabama right fielder.
Thompson’s third hit of the game gave the Gators another run of insurance, and after a balk from Eddington, they had two more runners in scoring position. Acton hit a single that bounced off the second-base bag and scored two more runs to give UF a 7-0 lead.
Trey Van Der Weide entered in the eighth for Alemán, who gave up five hits and no runs while striking out four, and Alabama was down to just its last six outs. Van Der Weide apparently took notes from Alemán’s efficiency, as it took him just nine pitches to retire the Crimson Tide side in order.
The Gators were looking for more insurance in the ninth, as Young led off with a single and though Hickey fouled out, Fabian notched a single of his own to put two on. But nothing came of it, and Jack Leftwich came in to close it out as UA was down to its final three outs.
The Tide managed to break the shutout, as Leftwich walked the leadoff batter, and a single with a fielding error from Young allowed a run to score. Leftwich bounced back with a strikeout, but a hit-by-pitch put another runner on base. Another strikeout gave him two outs, but a single from Jim Jarvis put another run across for Alabama. The game ended after that on a deep flyball, though.
Alemán (2-4) earned the win, and Smith (1-8) took the loss despite an excellent start to the game. UA will be back in action for a rematch against No. 2-seeded Tennessee, who it beat 3-2 on Wednesday. The winner of that game will face the Gators in the SEC semifinals at 1 pm EDT. A victory there would send Florida to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2016, when it lost to Texas A&M.