The Gators’ offense entered Sunday’s series finale with Kentucky scorching hot. They scored 18 runs on 21 hits in a pair of blowout wins to open the series.
However, there’s a saying in baseball that “momentum equals the next day’s starting pitcher,” and that proved to be correct once again on Sunday afternoon at Condron Ballpark.
Kentucky starter Sean Harney gave up just one run on five hits in seven innings. Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ offense enjoyed success early and late in the game to take a commanding lead. UK closer Tyler Guilfoil struck out five of the seven batters that he faced and didn’t allow a hit to finish out the game.
Kentucky defeated the Gators, 8-1, to avoid being swept. The top-5 hitters in UF’s lineup went a combined 0-for-15, and the Gators stranded eight runners on the basepaths.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to give credit to the other team,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, we would have loved to have scored more than a run today, but their starter was good. He came in with just over a 3.00 ERA, and he’s an older kid. I think he’s a grad student. He’s got some experience. He pitched really well. It’s really that simple.”
Jacob Plastiak, Reuben Church, John Thrasher and Adam Fogel all collected two hits for Kentucky, and Thrasher, Fogel and Daniel Harris all drove in multiple runs.
Colby Halter was the only Gator with multiple hits, and he drove in their only run of the game.
Kentucky (24-20, 7-14 SEC) jumped out in front in the top of the first inning against Florida starter Ryan Slater. Chase Estep lined a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a leadoff single, and he advanced to second on Plastiak’s groundout. A wild pitch by Slater moved him up to third, and Harris plated him with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Gators (25-18, 8-13) got that run back in the bottom of the second. With two outs and nobody on, Josh Rivera poked a 2-2 pitch into right field for a single. He advanced to second on a wild pitch by Harney, and Halter lined a single up the middle to tie the game.
That tie didn’t last very long. With one out in the third, Plastiak crushed a pitch from Slater high off of the batter’s eye in center field for a home run.
Thrasher expanded Kentucky’s advantage to 4-1 in the following inning via a two-run shot into the bullpen in left-center field.
Fogel lined Slater’s very next pitch into right field for a single that ended Slater’s day.
Freshman Fisher Jameson entered out of the bullpen and was outstanding. He didn’t give up a hit or a run and struck out five Wildcats in the first four innings of his outing.
Jameson’s fantastic work on the mound gave the Gators a great opportunity to tie or take the lead in the bottom of the seventh.
Singles by Halter and Deric Fabian and a walk to Wyatt Langford loaded the bases with one out with the Gators still trailing 4-1. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t get the big hit that they needed. Sterlin Thompson grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Failing to score even one or two runs in that inning ended up being the tipping point in the game, as Kentucky finally got to Jameson in the following half inning. Plastiak crushed a one-out double to the wall in right center, and Harris drove him in with a single back up the middle.
Jameson has only appeared in two games this season, both over the last two weekends. He’s only given up the one run in 4 2/3 innings with two hits and five strikeouts.
“He’s throwing a lot of strikes, downhill angle,” O’Sullivan said. “He threw the ball down in the zone. He threw enough sliders and changeups to get them off his fastball. He did a real nice job of getting leadoff hitters. He did a lot of things that he needed to do to be successful.”
With the bullpen lacking sufficient depth, O’Sullivan wouldn’t commit to starting Jameson next Sunday against Mississippi State, but he did say that that would be the ideal scenario.
“We’re just trying to win baseball games,” he said. “So, if we’ve got to use him on a Friday or Saturday to secure a win, we’ll do that. I don’t think we’re in a position where we can save anybody for a Sunday start.”
Kentucky tacked on their final three runs in the ninth off of Philip Abner and Anthony Ursitti.
Overall, this was a successful weekend for the Gators. They won a series that they absolutely needed to win and kept their postseason hopes alive. It had a chance to be an even more special weekend, though.
The Gators will take Monday off and then get ready to play South Florida on Tuesday.
“I think when you look at it, I think we played better this weekend overall,” O’Sullivan said. “Any time you win a series, you’ve got to be doing something right, although we’ve put ourselves in position now [where] we’re trying to collect as many wins as possible. With that being said, we still control our own destiny.”