GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Gators turned to their newfound ace in their first game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, and right-hander Brandon Sproat answered the call.
Sproat pitched seven solid innings while teammates Sterlin Thompson and Colby Halter connected for solo home runs off formidable Chippewas starter Andrew Taylor in Florida's 7-3 victory over Central Michigan in the Gainesville Regional.
One of the biggest cheers from the announced crowd of 5,472 came with two outs in the top of the seventh inning and a pair of Chippewas on base. After Sproat walked Central Michigan's Justin Simpson, Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan strolled to the mound with Ryan Slater warming up in the bullpen.
When O'Sullivan returned to the dugout without making a pitching change, fans roared their support. Sproat escaped the jam by getting Jakob Marsee to line out to left field, capping his 114-pitch outing.
Sproat scattered nine hits over his seven innings but allowed only one run. He struck out six and walked two for his first career victory in the NCAA Tournament.
The Chippewas struck first in the top of the third when Simpson scored on a one-out single by Danny Wuestenfeld. Thompson tied the game in the bottom of the third on a solo homer, and Halter put the Gators ahead for good with a one-out solo shot in the fifth.
The Gators padded their lead on Jac Caglianone's RBI double in the sixth, and his two-run single in the eighth. Halter too added a two-run double in Florida's four-run eighth.
The Gators won for the 17th time in the last 22 games.
- Sproat pitched seven innings and allowed just one earned run. Sproat has gone 5 1/3-plus innings in 10-straight starts. He has thrown five-plus innings in 13 of 16 starts this year while allowing three earned runs or less in 12 of those outings.
- Thompson's third-inning long ball marked his 11th home run of the season.
- Halter's fifth-inning, go-ahead blast represented his eighth homer of the campaign and Florida's 112th of the 2022 season.
- Florida's 112 home runs rank second all-time in program history, passing the 2002 team's mark of 111.
- Florida is now 8-0 all-time against Central Michigan including 7-0 at home.
- Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan is 1-0 vs. the Chippewas. Florida is 117-80 in NCAA Tournament games.
- Florida picked up its first win in NCAA Tournament play since June 1, 2019 vs. Army (13-5). The Gators are playing in their 14th consecutive Regional under O'Sullivan. 2022 represents Florida's 37th NCAA appearance and 18th time hosting. Florida has won 15 of its last 19 games and 17 of its last 22.
FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O'SULLIVAN
On Jac Caglianone showing maturity... "He has been great. It is a lot to ask of someone who hadn't had two weeks of live BP off our arms before he made the decision to try this thing and not redshirt. He is one of the few guys that can beat the shift and quite honestly, he is the strongest guy on the baseball field. He has given us a lift and obviously he had two really big at-bats tonight. Colby Halter was outstanding tonight with his home run and double late. The first game of the regional is different, you can feel the anxiety and nervousness, but Sterlin's homerun was big to tie the ballgame. Just a lot of good things tonight."
On Sproat's improvement mentally... "We had second and third to start the ballgame with no one out and he gets out of it. That tells you everything you need to know about his maturity and his ability to rise to the occasion and make big pitches. Same thing in the second inning, it was one of those deals and he has come a long way. To rise up in a situation like we had in the first inning and not give up a run - you never know during the course of a game what that one moment is going to be, but it might have been that, quite honestly."
On the matchup with Oklahoma... "We have looked at them, but our whole focus has been on Central Michigan. We are going to get in here early tomorrow and knock out Oklahoma. They are obviously playing really well, we are playing well, it is what it is. We are going to have to play our best baseball like we did tonight."
Florida advances to the winner's bracket to take on No. 9 Oklahoma tomorrow night at 7 p.m. ET with a berth in the championship game on the line. Florida will serve as the home team and the matchup will stream on ESPN+.