Florida Baseball: Brandon Neely pulls a rabbit out of the hat to keep Gators dancing

The junior had a career high in strikeouts to propel Florida to a winner take all game against Oklahoma State
Cyndi Chambers Sports / USA TODAY

One of the defining traits for Florida Baseball in 2024 has been the inability to get outs from their pitching staff in key situations. Ranked 163rd in the country in team ERA, one of the big concerns for the Gators in the Stillwater Regional is whether or not they would have enough pitching to get through the weekend.

Florida still has one more game it needs to win if it wants to advance to another Super Regional, but it has that chance in the first place because Brandon Neely was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Florida Baseball: Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough

It was a long day at the ballpark for Florida. After losing to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Gators were relegated to play Nebraska in the loser's bracket to kick off the day and it looked like Florida's season could end in the afternoon.

Florida two runs in both the 1st and 2nd inning and were down 4-2 in the bottom of the 2nd. With two men on base, Jac Caglianone came up to bat with no where for Nebraska to place him. 119 MPH of the bat later, Nebraska still would have been better off walking him.

It stayed 7-4 in favor of Florida before a weather delay paused the game for over two hours. Coming back from the delay, Nebraska put two more runs across the plate to make in 7-6. The bats for the Gators then came back alive as Florida scored 10 runs across the 6th and 7th inning to put the game out of reach.

Florida's pitching staff didn't exactly lock things down, but did enough to win 17-11 to set up a rematch with Oklahoma State.

Been Here Before

The problem with the regional format is that unless you start 2-0 you have to play five games in four days in order to advance. And if one was going to map out the path for Florida to advance, going 3-0 was a near necessity because of the strain the format puts on a pitching staff.

In 2022 and 2023, Florida won their first game, lost their second, then one their third to set up a regional final. In 2022 it was Carsten Finnvold coming out of the bullpen to pitch nine innings against Oklahoma in the Sunday night game. Last year it was Cade Fisher going seven inning against Texas Tech to keep Florida season going.

Enter Brandon Neely as Kevin O'Sullivan's 2024 rabbit out of the hat to keep the Gators dancing.

Fisher started the game, going 3.1 innings with two earned runs. Luke McNeillie came in and walked a batter before making way for Neely.

It's been a rough season for Neely, who came into the year as a Third Team Preseason All-American. He came into the night with an ERA of 6.28, but with options running out for Florida they needed him to eat up as many innings as he could.

5.2 innings later, Neely had a flawless performance, giving up just one hit and no runs.

Colby Shelton hit a three run home run in the 6th inning to put the Gators ahead 4-2 and Tyler Shelnut scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-2.

That's all Neely needed to keep Florida's season alive.

The two teams will square off again today at 3 PM, with the winner taking on Clemson in Super Regionals.