Gators down ‘Cats 9-6, Take SEC Lead

The No. 4 Florida Gators (40-13, 21-7 SEC) host the Kentucky Wildcats (24-29, 7-21 SEC) for a three-game regular season ending series at McKethan Stadium. The Gators took game one 9-6, and due to losses by both South Carolina (42-12, 20-8 SEC) and Vanderbilt (42-9, 20-8 SEC) sit alone atop the SEC. The Gamecocks are ending their season on the road at Alabama (lost first game 2-1), while the Commodores are ending theirs at Georgia (lost first game 5-4).

Both school started southpaws with Florida’s Brian Johnson (8-3) picking up the win. Johnson allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits, struckout out six and walked one in 6IP, while Wildcat Taylor Rogers (3-6) recorded the loss with nine runs (five earned) on 10 hits, striking out two, walking three, and hitting two: Austin Maddox (1b/P) in the third, Bryson Smith (CF) in the sixth. Maddox picked up his third save in this campaign, retiring all three batters he faced in the top of the ninth.

Johnson opened the game by striking out the first two batters, then allowed Chad Wright (LF) a single to center field and forced Thomas McCarthy (3b) to fly out to right field to end the Wildcats’ first inning. Bryson Smith (CF) led off the Gators’ first with a single to short stop. After Nolan Fontana (SS) flied out to center field, Smith advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Mike Zunino (C) walked. Florida couldn’t capitalize on the two on-one out situation as Preston Tucker (RF) struck out swinging and Josh Adams (2b) flied out.

In the top of the second Johnson set down all three Kentucky batters: Luke Maile (1b)  grounded out to second, Brayden Kapteyn (DH) struck out, and Michael Williams (C) grounded out to Johnson. In the bottom of the inning, Maddox singled to left field, and advanced to third on a Daniel Pigott (LF) single to right center. Vickash Ramjit (DH) had a basehit to first base, scoring Maddox, and advancing Pigott to second. A sacrifice bunt by Zack Powers (3b) advanced the runners over a base, and Smith’s RBI single to center field scored Pigott, and advanced Ramjit to third. Fontana sacrifice fly to center field scored Ramjit, but Smith was caught stealing, ending the inning with a  3-0 Florida lead.

With one out in the top of the third, Lucas Witt (CF) singled to the mound, Neiko Johnson (RF) walked, and Taylor Black (SS) reached on throwing error by Powers to load the bases. Wright tripled to right field, scoring all three base runners and McCarthy singled to left field, scoring Wright to put Kentucky up 4-3. Maile struck out swinging to end the visitor’s half of the inning. Zunino’s homerun to left center field tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the third. Adams was issued a one-out walk, and Maddox landed on base after being hit by pitch, but Pigott popped up to short stop, and Ramjit reached on fielders choice that sent Adams out at second to end the inning.

Johnson retired the side in the top of the fourth striking Kapteyn out, forcing Williams to line out and Riddle to ground out. With two outs, Fonana walked and Zunino flied out to center field for a scoreless inning.

The fifth inning also went scoreless for both teams. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Black singled to third but was left on base after Wright flied out to left field to end the visitor’s stanza. In the bottom of the fifth, Tucker led off with a fly out to right center field, followed by a basehit by Adams into left field. Maddox struck out and Piggot popped up to second base.

McCarthy led off the sixth with a triple to the right field corner, and scored on Maile sacrifice fly to deep center field to put the Wildcats up by one. A basehit by Kapteyn to left center field was followed by a Williams flied out to center field and a Riddle ground out to second to end the Kentucky half, 5-4. In the home-half of the sixth Ramjit reached on a throwing error by McCarthy at third and advanced on a Powers sacrifice bunt. Taylor hit his second batter of the contest, Smith, and with two outs, Zunino hit his second homerun of the game: a 3-run shot to left field. Tucker flied out to center field to end the inning with the Gators on top 7-5.

RHP Greg Larson moved to the mound to open the seventh and set down the first two Kentucky batters. Black reached first and advanced to second on both a fielding error and throwing error by Powers. Larson issued Wright a free pass, and McCarthy singled to right field, scoring Black to bring the Wildcats to within one run. Maile struck out to end the stanza. Maddox hit a one-out single to right field, followed by Pigott who grounded to Williams, but couldn’t beat the throw at first by about a step and a half. Johnson flied out to left field to end the seventh 7-6 Kentucky.

Larson retired the side in the top of the eighth. Cody Dent, who replaced Powers at third in the top of the inning, singled up the middle and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Smith bunted to the mound, and reached base on a fielding error by Rogers. With men on the corners, Kentucky made the move of replacing Taylor with LHP Mike Kaczmarek. Fontana singled to right field, advancing Smith to second, and scoring Dent. Zunino earned his fifth RBI of the game with a first pitch basehit into center field that scored Smith. Tucker advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Kaczmarek was replaced with RHP Nick Kennedy. Adams reached on a fielders choice that caught Fontana in a run down for the second out, followed by a fly out by Maddox to end the eighth with the Gators up 9-6.

Larson issued a lead off walk to Witt to start the ninth, and Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan moved Maddox to the mound, Pigott to right field, Tucker to 1b, and put Tyler Thompson in at left field. Maddox retired the next three batters to end the game with the 9-6 Gator victory, picking up his third save on the year.

”What can you say about Mike Zunino?” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. ”He keeps swinging the bat like the leader of a ballclub and came up with some big home runs. I was proud of the way we fought back tonight, this time of the year you have to focus on the positives. I thought that Brian Johnson’s start, other than the third (inning), went well. He gave up one run over six innings, minus the third inning, so we’re going to focus on those other five innings.”

The Gators will start RHP Hudson Randall (8-2) who will be looking for his first win since April 29, after recording a loss against Arkansas, and a no-decision against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats will have their ace on the mound, Alex Myer (6-5) who is a projected top 10 pick in next month’s MLB Draft. Myer is leading the SEC with 101 strikeouts, 94 innings pitched, four complete games, and two complete game shutouts. Florida is now one win shy of tying the school record for most regular-season wins with 41 (1989, 1991, 1996, 1998).

 

Dory LeBlanc is a contributing author at GatorsFirst.com and BourbonMeyer.com.  For more thoughts on the Florida  Gators (and more) follow Dory LeBlanc on Twitter (@Dory_LeBlanc).

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