SEC Tournament: Gators 7, Alabama 6 on Riopelle’s Game-Winning Blast (11 innings)

WHAT HAPPENED: Catcher BT Riopelle slammed a game-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning off Alabama freshman lefty reliever Alton Davis II to lift the Gators to a come-from-behind 7-6 win over Alabama in Florida’s Southeastern Conference Tournament opener at the Hoover Met on Wednesday night. Riopelle’s blast served as a drastic turn of events from the top of the inning. Alabama’s Tommy Seidl drilled a bases-clearing three-run double off Gators reliever Brandon Neely with two outs in the top of the 11th to put the Crimson Tide up 6-3. The Gators responded with four consecutive hits in the bottom of the inning, highlighted by Riopelle’s homer for the No. 1-seed Gators. Florida struck early on a two-run homer by shortstop Josh Rivera in the bottom of the first off Alabama starter Luke Holman. However, the Crimson Tide chipped away at the lead, tying the game in the fifth inning before taking a 3-2 lead in the sixth on a solo homer by third baseman Colby Shelton

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME: Besides the obvious, trailing by a run and seeking to get on base with a two-out hit, UF designated hitter Luke Heyman hit a fly ball to center that appeared ready to drop for a hit in the bottom of the seventh. That’s when Crimson Tide center fielder Caden Rose left his feet and made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning and preserve his team’s 3-2 lead. Not to be outdone, Gators second baseman Cade Kurland made a great diving stop and throw to first to retire Alabama’s Drew Williamson to lead off the top of the eighth. 

Rivera, Josh (2023 SEC Tournament vs. Alabama)
Gators shortstop Josh Rivera homered in the first inning of Wednesday night’s game against Alabama. (Photo: Emma Bissell/UAA Communications)

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gators starter Hurston Waldrep made his first postseason start since pitching for Southern Mississippi in last season’s Hattiesburg Super Regional. Waldrep delivered a solid performance, limiting Alabama to five hits and three runs over 5 2/3 innings. Waldrep struck out seven and walked two in a 87-pitch outing. Waldrep faced the minimum through 3 2/3 innings until the Crimson Tide broke through with a two-out rally in the fourth inning (see “key moment” below).
STRANGE STAT: The Gators played 55 regular-season games heading into the SEC Tournament, and not one of them went extra innings. Wednesday’s game was the first extra-inning game for the Gators since a 2-1 win over South Carolina on May 24, 2022, a span of 65 games. 
KEY MOMENT: Alabama scored its first run in the top of the fourth inning with a two-out rally that started in an unusual way. With Drew Williamson at the plate, he hit a ground ball between first and second that Gators first baseman Jac Caglianone reached. However, when Caglianone looked to make a throw to first, Waldrep was late covering the bag. Waldrep’s hat fell off his head and covered his eyes after his pitch to Williamson, preventing him from seeing the play until it was too late. “We will address that postgame with the equipment manager,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan quipped to the SEC Network crew the next inning. Waldrep hit the next batter, Andrew Pinkney, with a pitch and gave up an RBI single to Shelton before striking out Dominic Tamez to end the inning with UF in front 2-1.

BY THE NUMBERS: 15 — Home runs for Rivera, tying Brady McConnell (2019) for the most by a UF shortstop in a single season; 113 — Home runs hit this season by the Gators, which ranks third in the program’s single-season record book.

Riopelle, BT (2023 SEC Tournament vs. Alabama)
BT Riopelle reacts after hitting his game-winning home run against Alabama on Wednesday night in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. (Photo: Emma Bissell/UAA Communications)

FROM THE COACH: Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan — On emotional, walk-off win: “I’m not going to lie, this one was exciting. You very rarely come back from a three-run deficit in the 11th and have the ability to bounce back from a tough top of the 11th. Obviously, all the momentum was in their dugout. But there’s a lot of positives in this game. We wanted to keep Hurston to about 85 pitches. I think he threw 87 because he was on short rest. Ryan Slater continues to do exactly what we ask him to do. Philip Abner came in and did his job. And we extended Neely. Having the ability to do that, he’s probably — he obviously won’t be available the next two days, three days, probably, but we did extend him in case we need to in the postseason. We’ve had a resilient group the entire year, and this is just another example, but certainly it was an exciting win.”
FROM THE PLAYER: UF catcher BT Riopelle on his homer: “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. And much like Sully said, Alabama is a very old team. I think they start one guy in the lineup that’s a freshman, the rest of them are juniors or above, so that’s a hard team to [beat]. But 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.”

UP NEXT: The Gators (43-13) face the winner of Wednesday’s late game between Auburn and Vanderbilt in the late game on Thursday night, which is scheduled to start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the 5:30 p.m. ET game.


2023-05-25 02:45:15