As soon as raindrops started falling on Alfred A. McKethan Stadium on Saturday night, hits started falling in for the No. 6 Florida Gators (32-12, 12-8 SEC).
It was just too little too late as a failed suicide squeeze with two outs and the tying run on third base ended Florida’s valiant comeback attempt in a 7-6 loss to Kentucky (25-16, 10-9 SEC).
The game got weird in the second inning. Starter Dane Dunning struck out Marcus Carson, but Carson reached base on a wild third strike. Dunning then lost all control, hitting three consecutive batters to plate the first run of the game without a single Kentucky hit. Another run scored on a wild pitch before Evan White’s two-out double plated two more Cats. Dunning was lifted in the middle of the inning, his shortest outing of the season at just 1.1 innings.
The Gators cut into the Kentucky lead, scoring two runs of their own in the second but never really threatened again until the ninth. Meanwhile, Kentucky used back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning to extend their lead, 6-2 and added an all-important insurance run in the seventh.
Trailing 7-2 with just three outs left the Gators came up to bat in the ninth loose.
“The energy was really high,” junior outfielder Harrison Bader said. “We just went to the plate with nothing to lose, just swinging with an approach and a plan, and we strung something together.”
Tobias led the ninth off with a single before Bader flew out. That would be the last batter that Kentucky starter Dustin Beggs would face. Beggs threw 122 pitches over 8.1 innings, allowed just six hits, three runs, walked two and struck out six.
Pete Alonso welcomed the new pitcher with a double to right-center that plated Tobias. JJ Schwarz lined a ball down the third base line that looked like it would be another RBI double but Kentucky third baseman Thomas Bernal made a tough backhanded grab and fired over to first for the second out.
Mike Rivera singled and Ryan Larson walked to load the bases and bring up the tying run to the plate. In an inning where the Gators entered down five, they had a legitimate chance to take the game. Jeremy Vasquez pinch-hit for Dalton Guthrie (0-4 on the night). Vasquez smacked a single up the middle, scoring two more runs. Freshman Taylor Lane replaced him on the basepaths and Buddy Reed drove in Larson with a single of his own.
A red-hot Richie Martin stepped up to the plate, hitless on the night, but with an opportunity to extend a 14-game hitting streak and a 20-game streak of reaching base safely. Martin took strike one before getting a sign from O’Sullivan to execute a squeeze bunt. Standing on third, the freshman Lane has great speed, as does Martin. O’Sullivan saw Bernal playing back and thought it could work.
Martin laid the bunt down nicely down the third base line but pitcher Logan Salow was quick to pick it up, toss it to the catcher who applied the tag for the final out on Lane as he tried sliding into home.
A deflating ending to a thrilling comeback.
“He gets that down, nobody says anything about it,” O’Sullivan said. “But that was not the game, the game had to do with our pitching in the second inning.”
Kentucky taking the first two games of the series marks the first home series that the Gators have lost in 2015, after winning their first seven. The Gators will try to come out on Sunday and avoid being swept at home, as well as falling farther behind in the SEC East standings.
“We just have to take what we did positively into tomorrow’s game. We battled back and never gave up,” Tobias said. “We put some good swings on the ball late in some pressure situations. We need to carry that into tomorrow and use it as motivation.”