WHAT HAPPENED: Gators catcher BT Riopelle played the starring role for the second consecutive game. Riopelle, who hit a game-winning three-run homer in Wednesday’s victory over Alabama, struck again on Thursday night against Vanderbilt. Riopelle hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning that turned a tie game at the Hoover Met into a 6-2 Florida lead. Riopelle finished 2-for-3 with two home runs and five RBI.
PLAY OF THE GAME: What else? Riopelle stroked an 0-1 pitch from Vanderbilt reliever Bryce Cunningham deep over the left-center fence to break a 2-2 tie with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The grand slam was Riopelle’s second homer of the game. He put the Gators ahead 2-1 in the fourth inning when he led off with a towering home run to right field off Commodores reliever David Horn.
STRANGE STAT: The Gators have outscored Vanderbilt 28-7 in four meetings this season. UF outscored the Commodores 22-4 earlier this month in a three-game sweep at Condron Ballpark in which the Gators went from two games back in the SEC East to one game ahead.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gators starter Brandon Sproat pitched well in a game the Gators needed to protect their bullpen following Wednesday’s 11-inning win over Alabama. Sproat pitched six innings, giving up seven hits and two runs. He walked one and struck out six to keep the game close until the offense finally woke up in the seventh. Following Sproat, relievers Ryan Slater and Philip Abner came in to make sure Riopelle’s heroics stood.
KEY MOMENT: Surprise, surprise, Riopelle was involved in this play as well. Following a two-out double by Vanderbilt’s Parker Noland in the top of the seventh, the Commodores had runners at second and third in a 2-2 game. Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan turned to Slater with Jack Bulger at the plate. Slater got Bulger to swing and miss at what appeared to be strike three. However, home-plate umpire Javerro January ruled that Bulger fouled off the pitch. On the next pitch, Slater struck out Bulger looking to end the inning. Riopelle tossed the ball into the air and received a warning from January, but he got the last word by hitting his game-winning homer in the bottom of the inning.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Gators with 10 or more home runs after designated hitter Luke Heyman joined the club with a solo shot in the second inning, his 10th homer of season; 14 — Years since a Florida player hit three home runs in the SEC Tournament. Riopelle is the first UF player to hit three home runs in the tournament since Jonathan Pigott in 2009. Chuck Hazzard accomplished the feat in 1996.
FROM THE COACH: “It’s very hard to beat anybody four times in one year, and obviously Vanderbilt’s got a great team. Brandon was outstanding again and Slater came in and did his thing, and Abner, I couldn’t be more happy for him to come in in that situation. What can you say about BT? He comes through for the second night in a row with a big home run. It was a good team win.” — Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan
FROM THE PLAYER: “I’m just seeing the ball well. We took advantage when it really mattered and that’s why we got the win. He struck me out on a backdoor slider on the at-bat before. He threw me another one and I didn’t miss it. It’s a back-and-forth game between the hitter and the pitcher, and I won that one.” — UF catcher BT Riopelle on his homer
- Florida is now 77-68 all-time in the SEC Tournament.
- The Gators are 9-3 across the last three seasons in Hoover.
- Florida is the ONLY program to have reached the SEC Tournament Semifinals in each of the last three seasons.
- The Gators have won seven SEC Tournament Titles, with the most recent coming in 2015.
- Heyman hit his 10th home run of the season in the second inning, making him the sixth Gator with double-digit homers.
- Riopelle smacked his 12th homer of the season including his second in as many nights with a go-ahead, solo home run in the fourth inning.
- Riopelle made it a two-homer game with a go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the seventh, giving him three home runs across the last two nights in Hoover.
- Riopelle became the first Gator to homer three times in Hoover since 2009.
- He joins Jonathan Pigott (2009) and Chuck Hazzard (1996) as one of three Gators to homer three times at the SEC Tournament – and he did it in two games.
- Sproat improved to 13-3 in his last 19 starts dating back to 2022.
- Florida is 17-4 in Sproat’s last 21 starts including 13-2 this season.
- He has gone five innings in all but one of his last 21 starts.
- Florida has struck out 585 batters in 488 innings – translating to 10.8 per nine innings, which would mark a new program record.
- The Gators have 568 hits through 57 games (10.0 hits/game).
- The Gators have scored in 45.2% of batted innings (209 of 462).
- Florida is now 147-78-1 all-time vs. Vanderbilt including 6-7 at neutral sites.
- The Gators are 34-20 in the series under O’Sullivan featuring a 6-3 mark in neutral-site battles.
- Florida has now won five-straight against Vanderbilt.
UP NEXT: Top-seed Florida (44-13) advances to the SEC Tournament semifinals and will have an off day on Friday. The Gators will take on the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 9-seed Alabama and No. 4-seed Vanderbilt on Saturday at approximately 4 p.m. ET.