Brandon Sproat Dominant In Florida's SEC Opener
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As Brandon Sproat walked out to the mound for the ninth inning, the crowd of 5,546 fans at Condron Ballpark rose to their feet. The Florida righthander had been spectacular for the first eight innings Thursday night, holding Alabama to one hit and no runs on opening night of SEC play. Now, he would pitch into the ninth inning for just the second time in his career.
In the dugout a few minutes earlier, Sproat and coach Kevin O’Sullivan had a short conversation. Sproat finished the eighth inning having thrown 98 pitches and the Gators had double-barreled action in the bullpen, as they held a three-run lead.
“I’m going to give you all I’ve got,” Sproat said he told O’Sullivan. “That’s the only thing I can control.”
O’Sullivan was happy to stick with Sproat for one more inning.
“In all honesty, his stuff in the eighth didn’t look any different than it did in the first,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought he earned the opportunity to finish it. It wasn’t that hard of a decision.”
Sproat rewarded that trust and made quick work of the Crimson Tide in the ninth inning. He threw eight pitches and induced three groundball outs to finish the shutout and No. 2 Florida (17-3) won its SEC opener, 3-0.
Sproat was dominant all night against Alabama (16-3), which came into the day third in the nation in batting (.349). He struck out a career high 11 batters, walked two and hit one. The Tide’s lone hit came in the second inning—a single by Ed Johnson through the left side of the infield – and no baserunner advanced past second base. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, striking out five.
With the win, Sproat improved to 4-0, 2.73 with 43 strikeouts and 14 walks in 29.2 innings this season.
Facing a talented, experienced Alabama lineup, Sproat never flinched. He consistently threw his fastball in the upper 90s and mixed in his changeup and slider well. The Tide squared up few balls and, as usual, Sproat got opposing hitters to beat the ball into the ground. He on Thursday got 11 groundball outs and the Gators turned one double play, erasing a hit batter to lead off the game.
The Gators’ defense was stout behind Sproat, as it typically is. Shortstop Josh Rivera made a spectacular play ranging well to the right side of the infield to snare a sharp ground ball. The rest of the group got into the mix as well—first baseman Jac Caglianone, third baseman Colby Halter and second baseman Cade Kurland, whose home run proved to be the difference in the game.
As good as Sproat’s stuff was—and it was all working Thursday—more impressive was his control. That’s been a bit of a thorn in his side in the early going—he came into Thursday averaging 5.23 walks per nine innings—and last week he wasn’t happy with his performance against Siena after he walked three batters, hit two and threw a wild pitch in four scoreless innings.
“Sometimes in the past he’s kind of gotten himself in trouble at times by his own mistakes,” O’Sullivan said. “But tonight, he was just outstanding. To bounce back from last week’s start to this week’s start, that’s what some of the good pitchers do. That’s what winners do.”
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Sproat said he worked hard on the mental side of his game over the last week.
“Last week, I was struggling a little bit,” he said. “This week I had a ton of clarity of what I was going to do of myself and for the team. I was going to go out there and throw the ball as hard as I can every time. It works for me.”
Sproat last year was drafted in the third round by the Mets (90th overall) but didn’t come to a deal with the team and instead returned to Gainesville. His presence at the front of a star-studded pitching staff gives the Gators a trusted veteran to lean on. While righthander Hurston Waldrep and Caglianone are buzzier prospects and are projected as firstrounders in the next two drafts, Sproat on Thursday reminded everyone that he also has significant upside.
For Sproat to flip the script so thoroughly as SEC play began shows what kind of competitor he is.
“I think bouncing back from last week’s start, to be able to do what he did tonight speaks volumes of where he’s at mentally and maturity wise and against an older lineup,” O’Sullivan said.
Sproat isn’t going to rest on his laurels, however. Less than an hour after authoring the most dominant performance of his career—and the first complete game he’s ever thrown, as he said he never threw one even in high school – and signing autographs for scores of young fans, he was already starting to look ahead.
“For me, it’s a great accomplishment,” Sproat said. “It’s more of a thing to build off of. Yeah, it’s nice but I can’t carry it with me for a while. Honestly, it’s over now, so it’s time to get back to work for next week.”