The Florida Gators (24-6) were coming off a three game sweep of Tennessee and heading into an eight game road trip when they hosted UCF (20-9) Tuesday night in front of 3,049 in attendance at McKethan Stadium.
The Gators led 3-2 after eight innings and boasted a record of 22 wins, no losses this season when leading at that point in the ballgame. A ninth inning rally by the Knights to go ahead 4-3 would bring that record to 22-1, and the Gators’ Tuesday record to 3-4.
Florida used four pitchers in the contest, to UCF’s seven. UF’s starter, lefty Alex Panteliodis (2-0), pitched 4.1 innings, giving up two runs (both earned) on three hits, struck out three, and walked no one. Entering the game with 10 strikeouts and zero walks, right hander Austin Madddox, who pulled double-duty as the DH, allowed two hits, two walks, and three strikouts in 2.2 innings. The lone southpaw on the mound for the Gators was Nick Maronde, who issued one walk that would later score (earned) in his one inning of work. Anthony DeSclafani (4-1) picked up his first loss of the season in his one inning, allowing one run (earned) on two hits and striking out two.
Panteliodis retired the top of the UCF batting order to open the game. In the bottom of the first, UCF’s starter RHP Chase Bradford, forced both Nolan Fontana (SS) and Daniel Pigott (LF) to ground out before hitting Preston Tucker (RF) with a pitch. Bradford would load the bases with walks to Mike Zunino (C) and Brian Johnson (1B). Maddox singled into center field, scoring Zunino and Johnson giving the Gators an early 2-0 lead. Tyler Thompson, starting in center field for the game, struck out swinging to end the inning.
In the top of the second, Panteliodis set down the first two UCF batters, Jonathan Griffin (1B) struck out swinging and Chris Taladay (3B) flied out to right field, before allowing a base hit into left field by Beau Taylor (C). Taylor would be left on base after Austin Johnston (2B) struck out swinging for the third out. Bradford retired the side leaving the score 2-0, good guys.
UCF cut the lead in half after a lead off homerun by Ryan Breen (LF), his first of the season. Panteliodis set down the next three hitters to end the visitors’ half of the third inning. The Knights’ head coach, Terry Rooney, made his first of six pitching changes of the evening when he replaced Bradford with RHP Bryan Brown. Brown forced PIgott to fly out to right field, before allowing a base hit to left field by Tucker. Zunino was on base via a walk, his second of the game. With two men on, Brown pitched his way out of the inning, forcing Johnson to fly out to center, and Maddox to pop up to second.
Panteliodis opened the fourth inning striking out the first two Knights, DJ Hicks (DH) and Griffin, before Taladay grounded out to Johnson at first who tagged the base for the final out of the frame. Thompson led off the Gators’ half of the fourth with a base hit into right field. Josh Adams (2B) followed with a single of his own past the glove of a diving Darnell Sweeney (SS) that trickled into center field. After lefty Nick Cicio replaced Brown, both baserunners advanced on a Zack Powers (3B) sacrifice bunt down the third baseline. With runners in scoring position, Cicio pitched himself out of the jam, forcing Fontana to pop up to shallow right center and Pigott to ground out to short stop.
After retiring the first batter in the top of the fifth, Panteliodis gave up his second home run of the game, this time a shot to left field courtesy of Erik Hempe (RF) to even the score 2-2. Breen advanced to second base, after reaching on a throwing error by Fontana. Florida head coach, Kevin O’Sullivan, sent Panteliodis to the duggout and brought Maddox to the mound. Maddox gave the first batter he faced, Johnston, a free pass before striking out Sweeney. He walked Ronnie Richardson to load the bases, but forced Hicks to fly out to center field, avoiding additional UCF runs. Cicio set down Tucker (ground out) and Zunino (strike out), before allowing Johnson an infield single on a soft shot to second base. Maddox ended the fifth with a line drive to Johnston at second base.
UCF went three up-three down in the top half of the sixth. Rooney went to his bullpen for righty Matt Collins to replace Cicio in the bottom of the inning. The Gators threatened to extend their lead with a one-out double down the right field line by Adams. Powers, the next batter, reached first after swinging at a wild pitch for the third strike. With two men on, Collins forced Fontana to fly out to center, and Pigott to line out to short stop to end the inning.
Maddox stayed on the mound to open the seventh, and set down the first two batters, Breen (groundout) and Johnston (strikeout). The next batter, Sweeney, hit a fly ball to shallow center field. Fontana back-pedaled from short stop and as he was reaching back for the grab, fell awkwardly, hitting his head on the ground. Pigott quickly picked up the ball, but Sweeney was already aboard. Pigott and Thompson called over for the trainer, John Barrett, as Fontana laid on the grass in obvious pain. After several minutes of treatment by Barrett, Fontana was able to walk off the field unassisted, as Cody Dent trotted onto the field to replace him at short stop. Richardson popped up to Powers in foul territory for the third out. RHP Danny Winkler took the mound for the Knights and retired Tucker, Zunino, and Johnson all with fly outs.
Nick Maronde entered the contest for the Gators at the outset of the eighth inning. Hicks led off with a ground out to Johnson at first who tagged the base for the first out. Griffin hit the ball deep to center field, but Thompson made a terrific running catch at the 400′ mark on the wall for the second out. Taladay registered the third out with a fly out to center field. DJ Hicks, who would pick up the win, took the hill in the bottom of the eighth for the Knights. Maddox led off with a hit to short stop that bounced off the glove of Sweeney and hopped into left field. Sweeney was charged with an error as Maddox was replaced at first base with a pinch runner, Paul Wilson, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Thompson. Hicks was able to force Adams to pop up to second for the second out. Jeff Moyer entered the game to pinch hit for Powers and hit a hard shot into center field, scoring Wilson from second for the 3-2 Florida lead. Dent would ground out to second to end the inning. Moyer was the tenth man left on base by the Gators.
After issuing a walk to Taylor to open the ninth, Maronde was replaced by Anthony DeSclafani. DeSclafani struck out the first batter he faced, Hempe, but allowed a base hit by Breen to center field when a diving Thompson could not make the catch. After striking out Johnston, DeSclafani would pick up the loss after a double to center field by Sweeney could not be caught by Thompson, allowing Taylor and Breen to score for a 4-3 UCF lead. Richardson grounded out to third to end the stanza. Richardson, who took the mound for UCF in the bottom of the inning, struck Pigott out swinging and forced Tucker to fly out to right field. Zunino ended the game, and his 17 game hitting streak, when he struck out swinging.
The No. 4 Florida Gators begin their season-high eight-game road trip Friday in Starkville, MS when they take on Mississippi State for a three game series. The Gators will make a stop in Tallahassee on April 12 for their final meeting of the season against Florida State on their way to Athens for a three game stint against Georgia (April 15-17). The final game of the trip takes place April 20 when they face UCF in Orlando.