After a slow start the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats poured in on the No. 5 Florida Gators, taking the opening game of final series of the season 12-4.
Kentucky ( 38-16/19-9 SEC) clawed out 20 hits, tied for the most against a SEC opponent this season (South Carolina) and second most on the season. The win tied the Cats and Gators (38-15/19-9 SEC) atop the SEC, joined with LSU, who beat Mississippi State 3-1.
Alex Faedo started off the game in complete control. He gave up two singles in the first but left unscathed. He gave up two more singles in the second but stranded both runners. Faedo gave up a two-out single in the third but struck out three. The junior had five strikeouts in the first three innings.
Meanwhile the Gators’ bats were alive and well. Ryan Larson (1-3) reached on a throwing error to start the bottom of the first and moved over to second when Dalton Guthrie (1-5) grounded out to the pitcher. JJ Schwarz (2-3) singled to third base and Nelson Maldonado (0-2) drew the first of three walks on the night to load the bases. Austin Langworthy lofted a ball deep to center field to score Larson and Jonathan India (3-5) singled back up the middle to score Schwarz, giving Florida a 2-0 lead.
The Gators added to that in the second. Mark Kolozsvary and Deacon Liput both walked to start the inning and were moved up by a Larson sacrifice bunt. Guthrie grounded out to short but it was enough to plate Kolozsvary.
Faedo made it to the fourth inning and got a quick groundout and fly out before the wheels fell off.
Kole Cottam (3-5) singled, Faedo plunked Marcus Carson (3-4) and Connor Heady (2-4) singled to load the bases. The two two out hits were a theme; Kentucky’s first nine hits of the night came with two outs and the Cats were 11-16 (.688) hitting with two outs on Thursday. That brought right fielder Tristan Pompey to the plate.
Faedo quickly worked the count in his favor, 1-2, but Pompey battled, fouling off four consecutive pitches. Faedo threw a good pitch, a slider low and in to Pompey but the lefty dropped his barrel on it and blasted the offering over the wall in right field for a grand slam, 4-3 Kentucky.
“I thought it was a good pitch,” Faedo said after the game. “Down and in lefties usually hit that alright. It just should have been in the dirt.”
GRAND SLAM in Gainesville!!!!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 19, 2017
The Wildcats weren’t done. They posted a run in the fifth, two more in the sixth; a four-spot in the seventh and another run in the eighth to extend the lead to 12-3.
“Losing is losing,” Schwarz said after the game. “Tomorrow is a new day. They can’t bring any of the hits they had today or any of the runs to tomorrow’s game.”
Florida clawed a run out in the ninth inning when India picked up his second RBI of the game with a single up the middle to plate Maldonado but the deficit was too steep. The loss ended Florida’s 10-game SEC winning streak, which started back on April 22 with a 7-5 win over South Carolina.
Kentucky came into Thursday night’s game leading the SEC in batting (.322), slugging percentage (.506), on base percentage (.425), runs (411), hits (576), RBI (377), doubles (128), total bases (905) and hit batters (80).
The Gators can still win the SEC regular season championship. A win Friday, coupled with a LSU loss would hand Florida the crown. Brady Singer (6-3, 2.58) will face Kentucky lefty Zach Logue (6-4, 4.50) on Saturday at 7 pm. SEC Network will televise the game.