Florida Shows Experience, Resilience In SEC Tournament Comeback

Image credit: Florida catcher BT Riopelle (Photo by Eddie Kelly)

HOOVER, Ala. – BT Riopelle dug into the box in the bottom of the 11th inning Wednesday to face a tough left-on-left matchup against Alabama closer Alton Davis II. Florida was trailing by two runs in their SEC Tournament opener but with runners on the corners, no outs and a run already in during the inning, the Gators were in business.  Riopelle, the fifth-year senior catcher, was ready for the moment.

Davis got ahead in the count 0-2 and fired a 96-mph fastball to Riopelle. He was trying to challenge him up but the ball caught too much of the zone. Riopelle, never one to get cheated at the plate, unloaded and blasted a towering three-run home run to right center field.

The top-seeded Gators, who had just given up three runs in the top of the inning and were staring the loser’s bracket in the face, instead were now mobbing home plate as Riopelle rounded the bases to complete their latest comeback and beat the Tide, 7-6. The win was Florida’s 18th comeback win of the season but just their second walk-off.

Riopelle was thrilled to have delivered the game-winner, but he was quick to credit his teammates. The rally started with three straight singles from Wyatt Langford, Jac Caglianone and Josh Rivera – Florida’s biggest stars – to set the table for Riopelle.

“It means the world to me, but it definitely means the world to our team,” Riopelle said. “That was an ultimate team win. You look at the last inning, we’ve talked about before how your best players have to play the best to win.

“Our best players in the last inning came up when it means the most, and ultimately it’s a great win for our team, not just me individually.”

The game was a classic SEC Tournament thriller. Alabama righthander Luke Holman, the team’s top starter, threw 5.2 solid innings. He held the Gators to two runs on four hits and three walks, striking out five. Righthander Aidan Moza followed with 4.1 quality innings out of the bullpen.

On the other side, Florida righthander Hurston Waldrep, a projected first rounder, struck out seven batters in 5.2 innings. He held the Tide to three runs on five hits and two walks. The Gators’ bullpen of Ryan Slater, Philip Abner and Brandon Neely held Alabama scoreless for four innings before the Tide finally broke through against Neely, Florida’s closer, in the 11th inning.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the 11th, Alabama sixth-year outfielder Tommy Seidl drove a double over the head of right fielder Tyler Shelnut. The hit cleared the bases and energized the crowd at Hoover Met.

The fact that both Seidl and Riopelle played hero in the 11th inning was notable if somewhat unsurprising. Both are using their extra season of eligibility granted due to the seasons canceled by the pandemic. Seidl is 25, Riopelle is 23. Both have seen a lot of baseball in their careers.

“They’ve been in those situations before, so they kind of, their heart rate slows down, they’ve been through the ups and downs, they’ve been through situations very similar to that throughout their careers,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “You can see sometimes really good players, even though they’re really talented, in those situations they kind of get sped up.

“But when you have that many college at-bats underneath your belt, it just allows you to many times have success because you’ve been there and done that.”

The Gators are starting to get a been there, done that mentality as a team. Their offense means they’re never out of ballgames and it’s shown, as they’ve come back in more than 40% of their 43 victories this season. With the NCAA Tournament looming next week and Florida looking to get back to the College World Series for the first time since 2018, that kind of resilience and the experience of games like Wednesday night will serve them well throughout the postseason.

“You have to have those experiences throughout the season to believe that you can do it,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s one thing as a coaching staff to sit there and say, we can do this, we can get back in this thing, but when you do it numerous times throughout the year, the belief becomes real, and that’s what happened tonight.”

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone