Florida’s mid-week struggles continued Wednesday night, as the Gators dropped their fourth-straight mid-week game and their sixth of the season to UCF 8-6 in Orlando.
The loss for Florida was the second of the season to the Knights and the third in the past five games.
The Knights plated one run in the second inning, two in the third and fifth, and three in the seventh to take an 8-0 lead in front of a crowd of 3,601 fans at Jay Bergman field.
Florida rallied to score six runs in the eighth keyed by a grand slam by Preston Tucker, but it wasn’t enough to help the Gators overcome the big deficit.
Junior Tommy Toledo picked up the loss for the Gators, his third of the season, after giving up one run on three hits in two innings of work.
UCF’s Travis Shreve put the Knights on the board with a two-out RBI single in the second off Toledo. Junior Erik Hempe reached on an infield hit with one down and moved into scoring position on a grounder by Luciano. Shreve sliced a single into left center that brought across Hempe but was then picked off by Toledo to end the inning.
UCF senior Chase Bradford retired all six batters he faced before senior Alex Besaw took over at the start of the third inning as part of a pre-determined pitching plan.
Florida senior Josh Adams collected the Gators’ initial hit with a one-out single into right field and was sacrificed over on a bunt by sophomore Kamm Washington. After sophomore Nolan Fontana drew a walk, Besaw had senior Bryson Smith fly out to right field to strand the runners.
In the home part of the third, junior Alex Panteliodis replaced Toledo on the mound.
Chris Taladay increased UCF’s lead to 3-0 with a key two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded. Junior Beau Taylor led off with a single up the middle and was pushed to second on a bunt by sophomore Darnell Sweeney.
Sophomore Ronnie Richardson earned a free pass for two runners aboard, and a grounder by redshirt sophomore D.J. Hicks allowed both of his teammates to advance. Senior Jonathan Griffin was plunked to load the bases with two out and Taladay delivered a base-knock into center field to extend the lead to 3-0.
After senior Brennan Dobbins threw a scoreless fourth, junior Bryan Brown set down the Gators in order in the fifth.
Freshman Daniel Gibson took the mound for Panteliodis prior to the Knights’ fifth trip to the plate and Richardson started things off with a double down the left-field line.
Gibson fanned Hicks and then got Griffin to ground out, allowing Richardson to reach third base. Taladay came through with another two-out RBI single for a 4-0 lead, prompting another pitching change. Hempe greeted junior Greg Larson with a bloop single into right center and Luciano punched a run-scoring single into left to make it 5-0 UCF.
Junior Nick Maronde took over for Larson in the bottom of the frame and turned in a 1-2-3 inning.
Knights senior Nick Cicio fired a perfect sixth and seventh, extending the stretch to 10-straight Gators retired.
Hicks began UCF’s seventh with a homer to right field off junior Anthony DeSclafani and Luciano connected on a two-run shot with two outs to extend the Knights’ lead to 8-0.
UF exploded for six runs on six hits in the eighth, highlighted by a grand slam by Tucker, to narrow the gap to 8-6.
Hicks moved from the designated hitter spot to the mound and senior Austin Maddox started the stanza with a single into right field and junior Tyler Thompson followed with his first homer of the season over the fence in left to put the Gators on the board. It was his first homer since Game 1 of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional against Miami on June 11, 2010.
Junior Jeff Moyer made it three-straight hits for Florida with a pinch-hit single through the right side of the infield before junior Daniel Pigott went down swinging on strikes.
Fontana was hit by a pitch and a base-hit up the middle by Smith loaded the bases, forcing UCF to call on sophomore Joe Rogers to replace Hicks.
Tucker brought the Gators within 8-6 with his second grand slam in as many games, a towering fly to right field. It was his team-leading eighth homer and gave the slugger 10 RBI and three homeruns in his last two outings.
Sophomore Mike Zunino drilled a double to straightaway center field and Rogers responded with strikeouts of sophomore Brian Johnson and Maddox.
Taylor and Sweeney had back-to-back singles off Maddox to open the home part of the eighth and Richardson’s sacrifice attempt failed, as Maddox fielded the bunt and threw Taylor out at third base.
Sophomore Steven Rodriguez was called in from the bullpen and committed a balk, putting both runners in scoring position. The southpaw struck out Hicks and then walked Griffin intentionally to fill the bags for Taladay with two down. Rodriguez induced an inning-ending grounder to hold the Gators’ deficit at two runs.
Down to their final three outs, the Gators had Thompson reach on an error by Shreve at second base to begin the ninth.
Rogers struck out Moyer and a fielder’s choice by Pigott forced Thompson out at second base before Rogers closed the game by striking out junior pinch hitter Ben.UCF outhit Florida 15-8 in the game.
The Gators resume SEC action on Friday at 6:30 p.m. with the opener of a three-game series against Alabama. It will be UF’s first contest at McKethan Stadium since April 5 and will kick off a seven-game homestand.