BT Riopelle’s grand slam sends Florida into SEC baseball tournament semifinals
A night after he made SEC Tournament history, Florida catcher BT Riopelle was unstoppable, not to mention unconscious with a bat in his hand.
Riopelle’s grand slam during the bottom of the seventh inning broke a 2-2 tie with Vanderbilt to power the Gators to the SEC Tournament semifinals. Facing a 0-1 count, Riopelle ripped a hanging breaking ball from Vanderbilt reliever Bryce Cunningham over the left-center fence to score Cade Kurland, Jac Caglianone and Josh Rivera.
The 424-foot shot was Riopelle’s second home run Thursday night and third in four at-bats. He gave the Gators a 2-1 lead during the fourth inning with a moonshot off Commodores reliever David Horn.
On Wednesday night in Hoover, Ala., Riopelle hit a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to lead Florida past Alabama and complete the largest extra-innings comeback in a tournament dating to 1977. The senior from Marietta, Ga., entered the week with 10 home runs in 2023 and just 1 during the previous eight games.
“I’m just seeing the ball well,” he said. “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.”
The win for the No. 1 seed Gators (44-13) against No. 6 Vanderbilt (38-18) was their fourth against the Commodores this month, including a sweep May 12-14.
UF now gets a day off before facing fellow SEC co-champion Arkansas (41-15) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the tournament semifinals. The Gators have yet to face the No. 3 Razorbacks this season.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad also received a strong night’s work from starting pitcher Brandon Sproat. He allowed 2 runs on 7 hits with a walk and 7 strikeouts on 98 pitches but did not get the decision. With the bases loaded in the top of the sixth with two out, Sproat forced Vanderbilt second baseman R.J. Austin to ground out.
Vanderbilt threatened an inning later, putting runners on the corners against freshman left-hander Cade Fisher. But O’Sullivan replaced him after 13 pitches with Ryan Slater, who struck out catcher Jack Bulger.
Following the clutch K, Riopelle tossed the ball into the air and received an umpire warning. An inning later, he was a Gators hero again.
Edgar Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at osgators.