The Florida Gators came into Oxford riding momentum of a five-game winning streak, but the Ole Miss bats shut it down in the series opener Friday night.
Florida ran six different pitchers out in the game, but the Rebels didn’t care who was on the mound. They hit them all while downing the Gators 12-4.
It started with a less than stellar performance from Tommy Mace. Through the first two innings, he had already given up five hits, but just managed to escape the jams. It was only a matter of time before those base runners would turn into runs.
Despite Ole Miss getting barrel to the ball early on, the Gators struck first. Back-to-back walks by Cory Acton and Jud Fabian and a one-out ground ball by Jacob Young put a pair of runners in scoring position for Florida’s best hitter. Brady McConnell ripped a liner down the right field line, bringing in those runs to make it 2-0.
It didn’t take long for the Rebels to answer. Once again, Ole Miss got the leadoff batter on with a single up the middle from Grae Kessinger. Then, Tyler Keenan took the very first pitch he saw over the left field fence.
Thomas Dillard joined in with a third straight hit, but Brady Smith caught him stealing just in time to make Cole Zabowski’s bomb only a solo shot. The Rebels took a 3-2 lead into the fourth inning that they would never relinquish.
In the fourth, Mace got just one out before giving up three more singles in a row. A run scored on the third hit as the throw from the outfield reached the plate in time, but after review, umpires determined Brady Smith did not have control of the ball. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t make a huge difference in the game, but that would be the end of Mace’s night.
Jordan Butler came on in relief, and walked the first batter he faced to load the bases still with just one out. He struck Zabowski out, but he and Smith were just not on the same page. A passed ball during the next at-bat plated another run, making it 5-2.
Cooper Johnson then sent a two RBI single to left field to pile it on even more at 7-2. Butler finally got out of it with another strikeout, but the damage was done.
The Gators tried to get a rally going in the fifth after Ole Miss went to its bullpen. For the first time all night, Florida’s hitters started seeing the ball well.
After a deep fly out from Fabian, Smith homered to left center. Young tried to follow him up with one of his own as he drove a deep fly ball in the same direction, but it was caught at the warning track. McConnell continued to produce with a solo home run to center field, making it 7-4 and giving him his third RBI of the game.
Kris Armstrong took the mound for the bottom of the fifth, but got in a jam with runners on second and third and one out. David Luethje saved the Gators from even more disaster with a couple fly balls to keep the Rebels off the board for the first time since the second inning.
Luethje continued to throw well, sitting Ole Miss down again in the sixth. Unfortunately for Florida, reliever Tyler Myers was settling in as well.
The Gators went down 1-2-3 in each of the last four innings, while wild pitches from Nick Blasucci led to two more runs in the seventh. Johnson hit a three-run bomb off Blasucci in the bottom of the eighth just for good measure.
All nine Ole Miss starters reached base at least once in the game, and most reached more than that in the 17-hit rout.
McConnell continued to lead the way for the Gators as he went 3-for-4 at the plate, and his lone out was a ball caught on the left field wall. Aside from him, it was a night to forget for the offense.
The pitching staff probably wants to forget it even faster. Mace took the loss, dropping his record to 5-3 on the season. He gave up 12 of those aforementioned 17 hits for six earned runs.
Luethje was the only of Florida’s pitchers to slow the Rebels’ offensive attack in his 1.2 innings, but Kevin O’Sullivan chose to replace him with Blasucci after he gave up a leadoff single in the seventh.
With the loss, the Gators fall to 21-11 on the season and 4-6 in SEC play. They will have a chance to turn that around in a Saturday double header starting at 1 p.m.