The No. 13 Florida Gators (37-18/21-8 SEC) clinched the SEC East championship with a win over Tennessee (30-22/11-17 SEC) on Thursday night but they were not satisfied with that accomplishment. Florida jumped on the board early and held on to win a 4-2 contest and take the final weekend series of the season on their way to the school’s 13th outright SEC Championship.
“I was really proud of the guys for responding the way that they did tonight,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “We talked before the game about the importance of coming out and playing hard and we got some clutch hits, timely pitching and great defense throughout the game. We didn’t want to share the title with anyone and the kids can now say that they are outright SEC Champions.”
Casey Turgeon kicked things off with a leadoff double — his 11th of the season –before advancing to third on a Richie Martin sacrifice bunt. Taylor Gushue plated Martin with a one-out double to left-center, giving Florida an early lead.
The Volunteers wouldn’t go down quietly with their SEC tournament life on the line. Taylor Smart led off the bottom of the second inning with a solo home run over the left field wall to tie the game off of left-hander A.J. Puk. Puk would sit the next three batters down in order on his way to a nice start (5 IP, 3H, 1R, 3 BB, 5 K, 92 pitches) and the win.
“A.J. gave us a great start,” said O’Sullivan. His fastball had a lot of life tonight and I love to see the progress of him going a career-best five innings.”
The middle innings flew by with zeros on the board for both teams before Zack Powers drove in Harrison Bader with a groundout to second to break the stalemate. Josh Tobias gave Florida the insurance runs they would end up needing with a two-out, two RBI pinch-hit in the eighth inning. Tobias went 0-1 on Thursday night after coming in as a defensive replacement for John Sternagel but made up for it in a big way on Friday.
Tennessee would add a run in the eight and bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning but Kirby Snead was able to hold off Tennessee and earn his second save in as many nights.
“[Justin] Shafer bridged the gap and we went to Kirby [Snead] again and he did a really good job of closing out the game,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s great to see the young guys grow every time they step on the mound and I like the way we are pitching as we wind down the grind of the regular season.”
Florida will go for the series sweep and a school record 22nd conference win this season on Saturday at 1 p.m.