After nearly a year of remaining unblemished at home the Florida Gators (29-5, 8-4 SEC) dropped back-to-back games to Mississippi State (23-9-1, 8-4 SEC), ending the weekend with a 2-1 loss on Sunday.
The Gators had not lost a game at McKethan Stadium since April 25, 2015 (7-6 vs. Kentucky) and had not dropped a home series since that weekend as well.
“There’s always a lesson when you lose a game,” closer Shaun Anderson said. “When you lose two in a row it’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Junior right-hander Dane Dunning drew the start in place of left-hander A.J. Puk. Puk left his last outing after just 11 pitches due to back spasms. Dunning, making his first weekend start of the season and first start since March 8, at UNF, started off strong. The junior retired six of the first seven he faced and worked four scoreless innings.
Bulldog shortstop Ryan Gridley led off the fifth inning with a home run, the one mistake Dunning would make all game, to give Mississippi State a 1-0 advantage. Dunning worked five innings, throwing 71 pitches, giving up the lone earned run and struck out four in a loss, his second of the season.
The story of the weekend, however, wasn’t Florida’s pitching but their bats. The Gators left 30 runners on base over three games. In the two losses Florida hit .233 (7-30) with runners on base and just .263 (5-19) with runners in scoring position. More egregiously, Florida was 0-2 with a runner on third base with less than two outs in the losses.
“We just really didn’t do the job,” first baseman Pete Alonso said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Bulldogs used a trio of pitchers to baffle Florida. Starter Konnor Pilkington lasted just four innings. Pilkington only surrendered three hits, but walked five batters. Zac Houston entered the game in the bottom of the fifth after Pilkington walked Dalton Guthrie and fed a single to Buddy Reed. Houston inherited two base runners and needed to navigate around the meat of Florida’s lineup. He did just that, inducing a trio of fly outs from JJ Schwarz, Alonso and Deacon Liput.
Elih Marrero’s bases loaded single tacked on an insurance run in the seventh inning before Shaun Anderson closed out the game for the Gators, striking out six of the nine batters he retired over three innings of work. Alonso jumped on a fastball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to keep Florida alive but Liput chased a ball high and out of the zone for strike three to end the game.
The Gators will travel to Florida State on Tuesday before taking a charter flight to Fayetteville, Arkansas for a three game series starting on Thursday. Freshman righty Jackson Kowar is the probable starter for Tuesday night in Tallahassee and Puk is projected to start Florida’s series with Arkansas on Thursday night.