As they have after each loss this season, The No. 1 Florida Gators (173 responded with a win over Tennessee (8-7). Florida used a trio of two-run innings to even the series — the first of SEC play in 2015 — winning 8-3.
Sophomore left-hander A.J. Puk was dominating in five innings of work, including career-high eight strikeouts, five coming in the first six outs.
“I wasn’t thinking about it, but that’s how it went tonight,” said Puk. “I was able to hit my spots early on and get ahead of hitters. Then I was able to finish them off.”
Florida didn’t record their first hit until the eighth inning on Friday but they made sure not to let that happen Saturday night. Richie Martin opened things up with a one out shot into center field. Martin was able to stretch his single an extra 180 feet after a fielding error, giving Florida a man in scoring position. Harrison Bader sent a ball just deep enough into right field to late Martin and give Florida their first lead of the series.
Josh Tobias singled after Bader and scored on a single by JJ Schwarz. Tobias was given a stop sign at third but the senior saw it too late and ran through it.
“I was going and my mindset was go,” he said. “I was like, if I stop, I’ll fall, so luckily I beat it out. Being aggressive helps.”
Tobias’ aggressive base running gave Florida a 2-0 lead but Florida did not match that level of aggressiveness enough the whole night. Despite coming out on top, Kevin O’Sullivan wasn’t happy with the teams’ approach.
“You knew they were going to try to make a run at some point, or that they were gonna make a run,” O’Sullivan said of Tennessee. “The thing about it is, we scored two in the first and then we went 1-2-3 in the second. Just have good at bats. I thought those were poor at bats at that time.”
The Gators and Volunteers stayed locked at 2-0 until Tennessee tied the game at two in the top half of the inning. Puk had been on cruise control for four innings but came out in the fifth wild. He plunked the leadoff batter and walked the next man before surrendering a sac bunt and a double. Puk worked out of the jam and the bats picked him up with two runs to push the lead back to two.
Puk left the game after throwing just two pitches (both balls) in the sixth inning and was replaced by Bobby Poyner. Poyner made quick work of the Vols and the momentum was squarely in Florida’s dugout. Buddy Reed smoked a ball into the gap in left center and hustled out a triple. He was able to take it easy as freshman Mike Rivera cracked his first career home run the very next pitch. With a comfortable four-run lead, the Gators coasted until the eighth, where Poyner allowed a run. Florida responded with two more of their own — their fourth two-run inning of the night — and finished off the win to set up a 1 pm rubber match at McKethan Stadium on Sunday.