Nothing will slow Wil Dalton down this weekend.
Playing close to his home state of Tennessee Dalton has two home runs a triple and nine RBI in the first two games on the road in Lexington. Dalton’s three-run home run on Friday was his 15th of the season and helped the Gators win 9-4 to take the series. It’s Florida’s first series win in Lexington since 2012.
Jackson Kowar got the start Friday night and was an escape artist through his seven innings of work. Kowar gave up a double and a walk but got an inning-ending double play in the first. He stranded two more runners in the second after back-to-back singles opened the frame and then two more in the third inning.
The Gators got on the board first in the second inning with a small ball approach. JJ Schwarz doubled to start the inning, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Brady Smith’s sacrifice fly.
The reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year, Sean Hjelle, ran into more trouble in the third inning. Hjelle sandwiched a strikeout with a pair of walks and then walked the bases loaded for Dalton. The sophomore got behind in the count but worked his way back and cleared the bases with a triple to deep center field.
Kowar continued on throwing zeros up on the board until he was taken out of the game in favor of Jordan Butler in the eighth inning.
It was one of Jackson Kowar’s best outings of the season, despite having to battle himself and get out of jams.
Jackson Kowar’s night vs Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/PYFMEuAkap
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) April 21, 2018
Dalton was back at it again in the eighth inning. Nelson Maldonado walked and Jonathan India doubled to start the frame before Dalton hit a no-doubt about it home run to left field. The home run was Dalton’s 15th of the season, best in the SEC. Dalton credited a new maturity and a new approach that he started in junior college last season for the power surge.
“No matter the count I’m trying to square up a ball every chance I get,” he said on the SEC Network broadcast after the game. “Nothing too complex, just put the ball in the air, let something happen and it tends to go over the fence quite a bit.”
That approach was especially useful facing the 6-11 Hjelle Friday.
“My main thing is I want hard contact but I want to put it in the air,” he said. “I’m aiming for the bottom of the baseball all the time. You got a guy like tonight, Hjelle, and he’s throwing downhill. You can’t hit that ball on top and expect it to go in the air. It’s coming down hill. It’s coming from a high angle. You gotta hit that ball under it, come up under it for sure.”
Jordan Butler relieved Kowar in the eighth but the freshman struggled. Butler hadn’t given up a run this season but gave up a single, double and hit a batter to load the bases. A fielder’s choice scored a run and another walk loaded the bases again before Michael Byrne would come out of the bullpen. Byrne got out of the inning without allowing another run.
Not to be outdone by Dalton and a day after his 24-game hitting streak was ended, India added to his home run count with his 13th of the season, a solo shot over the short 310’ sign in right field.
Byrne stumbled in the ninth, giving up two runs including a home run but the Gators held on for a 9-4 win.
Florida are winners in 15 of their last 17 games and have won all six of its SEC series this season. The Gators have outscored Kentucky 20-6 in two games and will look for a sweep on Saturday at 1 pm.