No. 2 Florida was seeded second overall for a reason. The Gators have high-end talent up and down the lineup, with the starting pitching to match.
Kevin O’Sullivan has a potential top-five pick in Wyatt Langford to anchor his lineup, along with two-way talent Jac Caglianone, who now has 31 home runs along with 81 strikeouts in 69 innings and isn’t draft-eligible until 2024. Hurstop Waldrep, who Kiley McDaniel of ESPN expects to go in the back end of the first this year, drew the start against UConn in an elimination game.
Armed with a nasty splitter and a fastball that reaches as high as 97 mph, Waldrep is a top talent, but when hitters aren’t biting on his diving splitter, he’s vulnerable to control issues, as he gives up more than five walks per nine innings.
That was not an issue on Sunday afternoon. Waldrep racked up a dozen strikeouts, four of which needed to be completed at first base on pitches in the dirt, and issued just two walks. He kept the UConn lineup in check with the devastating combination.
Waldrep and Mason Molina, Texas Tech’s starting pitcher on Friday who is expected to be a high pick in June, are the best pitchers that the Huskies faced all year and have dominated many offenses all year, with UConn just the most recent team to get mowed down by the pair.
For Florida, Langford was quiet on the scoresheet, with an 0-3 performance with a walk, but he did bring in two runs, as his walk came with the bases loaded and he added a sacrifice fly. Despite that, he laced several balls just foul down the left-field line, at least one of which would have been a home run if it was on the proper side of the left-field foul pole.
However, the left-handed Caglianone was as loud as can be. He hit two moon shots over the fence as part of a 2-4 performance that drove in five runs. Both home runs came on the first pitch of the at-bat against a left-hander. His first shot, which brought in three runs, proved to be the game-winner.
The Gators are flush with talent that will be playing in the majors someday and the high-flyers overwhelmed UConn. The Gators had plenty of traffic on the bases in the early going against Garrett Coe, but only struck for one run in the first three innings. It was a one-run deficit, but it felt like more than that.
UConn had more success against Wadrep in the later innings, but the high-end talent won out. The Huskies got the first two batters on in the sixth in what was a 6-1 game at that point, but the right-hander struck out the next three hitters he faced and had a clean seventh, punctuated by two more punchouts to crush any hopes of a comeback bid.
Jim Penders has built a great program and had a solid, mentally tough bunch this year, but elite talent won the day on Sunday.