After falling to Kentucky (35-23) in the opening game of the SEC Tournament, the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (40-20) exacted their revenge on the Wildcats with a 6-5 in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The win sends the Gators to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2011 where they will face LSU. The win today also gave Florida 40 for the season, the fifth time the orange and blue have reached that benchmark in the Kevin O’Sullivan era.
Freshman Brett Morales earned the start today but found himself in hot water from the get go. Morales issued a four-pitch walk to start the game and promptly gave up a RBI double to Max Kuhn. Just five pitches in and the Gators were already staring down the barrel of a shotgun, down a run with no outs and a man on second. Morales was helped out of the inning by his defense, which turned a double play before the freshman hurler closed things out with a strikeout.
The Gators went quietly in their half of the second before the hot Kentucky bats went back to work. Kyle Barrett lined a one-out single into left field and advanced to third on a wild pitch before Morales issued a walk. That was all she wrote for Morales and O’Sullivan turned to freshman left-hander Kirby Snead.
Snead was uncharacteristically shaky to start his outing, allowing a RBI sacrifice fly, back-to-back walks and a single to give Kentucky a 3-0 lead before he was finally able to get out of the inning.
Undeterred by the deficit, Buddy Reed drew a walk and was advanced to third by a Josh Tobias double. Turgeon singled to drive home Reed and Richie Martin beat out a double play ball to score Tobias.
After a scoreless fourth inning, the Gators took a one run lead in the fifth when Bader singled home Turgeon and Tobias. The lead was not safe, however. Snead worked himself into a groove, retiring 10-of-11 batters after surrendering two runs but wore down in the sixth.
Barrett reached first on a fielding error from Braden Mattson that proved to be costly. Barrett was moved into scoring position by a sacrifice bunt and Austin Cousino drove him in on the first pitch of his at bat.
Cousino swiped second (he’s 17-of-18 on the season) and advanced to score on a Kuhn double, giving Kentucky a 5-4 lead.
What happened next would surprise anyone who hasn’t watched this Florida baseball team all season long. As every television announcer has pointed out this week in Hoover, the Gators, on paper, seem to be a middle-of-the-road team. The Gators were 11th this season in the SEC with a .268 batting average. They were just eighth in the league in ERA. Stats don’t tell you about this team that just keeps finding ways to win ball games, more conference games than any other SEC team, in fact.
And that’s what Florida did on Saturday; they found a way to win.
Richie Martin singled with one out and quickly stole second base to give Florida a runner in scoring position with 3-4-5 due up to hit. Bader responded with his third RBI on a weakly hit ground ball up the middle. That RBI tied the game but their was still work to do.
Ryan Larson singled with two outs in the eighth inning and was moved over to third by a Buddy Reed single. Josh Tobias, who has swung a hot bat after spending a lot of time on the bench this season, drove in Larson for the go-ahead and eventual winning run.
It was the pitching staff once again, bolstered by great performances from Snead and Eric Hanhold but also the bats. Florida’s offense pounded out 12 hits today, which is the fourth most the team has put together in any game this season.
Florida will play LSU tomorrow at 4:30 in an attempt to be the first team to win the regular season conference championship and the SEC Tournament since 2011 when O’Sullivan’s gators completed the feat.
Following the game, O’Sullivan said that Florida has five pitchers who have yet to throw and all of them would be available. Expect to see Bobby Poyner earn some innings as well as Karsten Whitson.