HOOVER, Alabama -- A three-run homer from BT Riopelle resulted in a climactic finish in walk-off fashion for 1-seed Florida to defeat 9-seed Alabama in extras, 7-6, in a second-round game of the SEC Baseball Tournament on Wednesday at the Hoover Met.
"It means the world to me, but it definitely means the world to our team. 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," Riopelle said after the game.
Florida became the first team in SEC Tournament history to overcome a three-run deficit in extra innings. According to ESPN Stats and Information Group, Florida had a three-percent chance to win the game entering the bottom of the 11th.
"It gives you belief that no matter what the score is that you've got a chance to get yourself back into it," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.
The Gators didn't take long to get started in their first bit of action in the tournament. Florida star Jac Caglianone drilled a single in his first at-bat and Josh Rivera sent him home after nailing a homer out of the park in left field in the bottom of the first, giving them a 2-0 lead at the outset.
Rivera broke a run of 17 consecutive games without a homer that dated back to April 16.
The Tide were quiet the first few innings, but a single to left field from Colby Shelton drove Drew Williamson home and tightened the game up in the fourth. A sacrifice fly from Jim Jarvis sent Ed Johnson home in the top of the fifth and brought the Tide right back into it.
And Shelton wasn't done. After another scoreless inning from the Gators, the third baseman drilled a 405-foot dinger to right field and gave Alabama the lead, 3-2, and creating an uproar from the crowd.
Shelton continued to make history in the SEC with the hit. Shelton joined fellow SEC freshmen Charlie Condon and Ethan Petry with 21 homers hit this year -- which is more than every previous season combined at that number. He also became the 10th Alabama player to hit more than 20 homers in a season and the first since 2009.
The spectacular offense from Shelton was matched by stellar pitching from the mound.
Luke Holman pitched 5.2 innings and nailed his assignment by striking out five and only giving up two runs against one of the league's best lineups. Aidan Moza came in for relief and he kept the momentum going until a pivotal moment in the bottom of the eighth.
Dale Thomas was walked by Moza and then scored after Michael Robertson reached base by a scoring error, tying up the game. Moza was able to escape the inning by striking out two of Florida's best hitters in Caglianone and Rivera.
Florida made a myriad of pitching changes, but Brandon Neely came in the eighth inning and quickly retired the side. Moza continued his impressive relief work by getting three quick outs and sending the game to extra innings. Both pitchers had excellent outings in the 10th frame to keep their teams alive.
Everything changed in the top of the 11th when Neely let up a pair of singles from Dominic Tamez and Johnson. The crowd exploded when they thought the Mac Guscette scored, but the run was called a running lane interference and the Tide's final challenge of the night failed.
Florida decided to intentionally walk Jarvis and made a huge mistake. Tommy Seidl immediately nailed a double to right field and brought in three runners -- seemingly giving the Tide a comfortable 6-3 lead.
Thanks to Riopelle, it wasn't as Florida staged the amazing comeback.
"Neely has been nails for us all year," Riopelle said. "He got put in a tough situation that inning, first and third, no outs. We kind of get lucky with a little throw in the line, the runner was in the line. Just bases loaded and had to make a pitch over the plate.
"And Seidl being a fifth- or sixth-year guy, he's 25 years old, guys like that are going to come up in big moments. But Neely, like I said, has been nails for us this year. It was just good that we could get the win for him because it was about our time to help him out a little bit."
Moza gave up a single in the bottom of the 11th and was taken out to the tune of the crowd's ovation before Alton Davis II hit the field in relief. Davis II didn't get off to a great start as he gave up a quick single to Caglianone and then a single to Rivera that drew in a run -- making a 6-4 game with no outs.
Things only got worse for Davis II when Riopelle stepped up to the plate. The rest soon was history.
HOW IT HAPPENED
B1 | Caglianone singled through the right side of the field. Rivera homered to left field, Caglianone scored. Florida 2, Alabama 0.
T4 | Drew Williamson singled to first base. Andrew Pinckney was hit by a pitch and Williamson advanced to second. Shelton singled to left field, advancing Pinckney to third and Williamson scored. Florida 2, Alabama 1.
T5 | Ed Johnson was walked. Mac Guscette ground out, Johnson advanced to second. Caden Rose singled to left field, Johnson advanced to third. Jim Jarvis flied out to right field and Johnson scored. Florida 2, Alabama 2.
T6 | Shelton homered to right field. Alabama 3, Florida 2.
B8 | Thomas was walked. Robertson reached on a throwing error, Thomas advanced to second and then scored on the error. Alabama 3, Florida 3.
T11 | Tamez singled to right field and Hayslip pinch ran for him. Johnson singled down the right field line, advancing Hayslip to third. Johnson stole second. Jarvis was intentionally walked. Siedl hit a double to right field to score Hayslip, Johnson and Jarvis. Alabama 6, Florida 3.
B11 | Langford singled to center field. Caglianone singled to right center and Langford advanced to second. Rivera singled to left field, Caglianone advanced to third and Langford scored. Riopelle homered to right center, scored Caglianone and Rivera.
Florida (42-11) advanced to the third round to face the winner of 5-seed Auburn vs. 4-seed Vanderbilt. First pitch is scheduled to start 30 minutes after completion of the 5:30 p.m. LSU-Arkansas game in a contest that will be televised on SEC Network.
Alabama (39-17) will face the loser of 5-seed Auburn vs. 4-seed Vanderbilt. First pitch is scheduled to start 30 minutes after completion of the 10:30 a.m. South Carolina-Texas A&M game in a contest that will be televised on SEC Network.