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UF Baseball: Aleman Hurls Seven-Inning Gem to Send No. 13 Florida to SEC Tournament Semi-Finals

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SULLIVAN BORTNER

Starting pitcher Franco Aleman pitched a career-high seven shutout innings while six Gators collected multiple knocks as Florida used a 14-hit barrage to defeat Alabama, 7-2, and improve to 3-0 at the SEC Tournament for the first time in 21 years.

Florida now awaits the winner of tomorrow’s game between No. 2-seed Tennessee and 10th-seeded Alabama to determine their opponent in the SEC Tournament Semi-Finals. That semi-final game is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 29 at 1 p.m. ET with coverage on SEC Network.

Florida (38-19, 17-13 SEC) mashed double-digit hits for the second time in as many days, collecting 14 base knocks against the Crimson Tide (31-23, 12-17 SEC) on the heels of the team’s 18-hit onslaught yesterday. Six different Gators turned in multi-hit performances at the dish, one-upping yesterday’s total of five players with two or more hits.

Cory Acton (2-for-4) led the way with a three-RBI night. Staying red-hot offensively, Sterlin Thompson (3-for-4) registered three hits, scoring two runs and driving in one while improving his tournament batting average to .462 with a .846 slugging percentage.

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Jacob Young (3-for-5) was at the center of the action once again as well, recording a three-hit day with one home run for his third straight multi-hit performance. As a result, Young is now slashing .538/.533/1.077 with two home runs, one double, five RBI, and four runs at the SEC Tournament.

Both starting pitchers came out firing in round three, as both lineups were held scoreless through the first five innings. Aleman blanked the Crimson Tide for the first seven frames, while Alabama starter Dylan Smith did not forfeit a run through the first five.

Florida finally broke the tie in the top of the sixth. Leading off the frame, Nathan Hickey took the first pitch he saw deep to straightaway center for a long, solo home run to make it 1-0 in favor of the Gators. The big fly marked Hickey’s ninth of the campaign.

Aleman continued to hold the Alabama lineup in check in the bottom half of the inning, working around a leadoff single to produce a scoreless frame. That opened the door for Florida to keep the momentum going and add to their one-run lead in the top of the seventh, which is precisely what the Gators did following a leadoff double by Thompson.

Following his inning-opening two-bagger, Thompson advanced to third on a fly-out to right by Josh Rivera. With the count at 1-1, Acton then flared a double down the left-field line, plating Thompson and effectively making it a 2-0 ballgame.

Acton kept the wheels in motion by stealing third base for his third swipe of the campaign, which allowed Mac Guscette to drive in a run via a groundout to short. Capping off the three-run inning, Young homered to left field on a 1-1 offering for his second long ball of the tournament and fifth of the year.

In the bottom of the seventh, Aleman struck out two to increase his total to four strikeouts on the night as he worked yet another scoreless frame. The seven innings pitched represented a new career high for the right-hander, topping his previous best of 6.1 innings set just last week on May 22 at Arkansas.

Already with a 4-0 lead in hand, the Gators opened up the flood gates in the top of the eighth. Thompson remained locked in offensively, connecting for an RBI single to center to bring in Jud Fabian. With two men down in the inning, Acton drove in his second and third runs of the game with a two-run single back up the middle to make it 7-0.

Trey Van Der Weide relieved Aleman in the eighth, delivering a clean frame for the Gators with one strikeout to his credit.

Alabama scored two late runs in the bottom of the ninth to erase the possible shutout, but Florida nevertheless held on for a 7-2 win to improve to 3-0 at the 2021 SEC Tournament.

Aleman (2-3) earned his first win since April 1 against Ole Miss, firing a career-high seven shutout innings and scattering five hits and one walk while striking out four batters.

Alabama starting pitcher Smith received the loss, allowing four earned runs on nine hits with six strikeouts.

NOTABLES

  *   Florida improves to 3-0 at the SEC Tournament for the first time in 21 years.
  *   The Gators have outscored their SEC Tournament opponents by a 24-4 margin through the first three games.
  *   Florida has won 18 of their last 26 games overall.
  *   Aleman pitched a career-high seven innings to earn the victory, allowing zero runs.
  *   Florida registered a combined 32 hits over the last two games after the team erupted for 18 hits in their round-two win over No. 8 Mississippi State on Wednesday.
  *   Acton tied his career high with three RBI while going 2-for-4 at the plate.

FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

Opening statement on the round-three win…
“I thought it was a really well-pitched game on both sides. Their starter was really, really good. I think it was a scoreless game through five. Nathan [Hickey] came up with a big home run, but I think the story for us today was Franco Aleman and the start that he gave us. I felt like he pitched really good last weekend at Arkansas, and he certainly built off that today.”

On the improvements Aleman has made in recent starts…
“I think sometimes he has a tendency to maybe overthink certain pitches or certain situations at times. It’s been really — it’s been one inning in the outings when he hasn’t been successful. It’s always been like one inning where it kind of got away from him. But I think he’s learning to manage innings better. He’s making the most of the four pitches of the ball game. He’s figuring that out… There’s a reason we kept him in the rotation as long as we did, because we figured if we had a chance to do what this team ultimately wants to do, he was going to have to be one of our three starters.”

On Young being the spark plug at the top of the order…
“I was saying it on the radio with Jeff [Cardozo]. He’s everything you want in a player that you’re coaching. He’s a great student, and he makes all the right decisions off the field. But as far as a baseball player, he really sets a good example for the younger players. He’s a team player, number one, and he always gives good efforts on the field. He only knows one gear, and like I said, he’s the epitome of what you want in a player in a program like ours, and he certainly sets the example that way.”

UP NEXT
Florida advances to the SEC Tournament Semi-Finals, where the Gators will take on the winner of tomorrow’s game between No. 2-seed Tennessee and 10th-seeded Alabama on Saturday, May 29 at 1 p.m. ET with coverage on SEC Network. Fans can also tune in on radio via WRUF 850 AM/98.1 FM in Gainesville, 1010XL in Jacksonville, and on any mobile device via the TuneIn app (search for the “Florida Baseball” station).

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