Gators drop finale to Bulldogs

It was just one of those days for the No. 9 Gators on Sunday. Nothing seemed to go right for them in the series finale against Georgia.

Offensively, they put at least one runner on base in eight innings and put together eight hits, but they stranded 12 runners on base. They went just 3-for-17 with runners on base and 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

On the mound, they had two poor innings and surrendered two home runs. The defense committed a pair of errors.

It all added up to a 6-1 loss to the Bulldogs that put a dent into the Gators’ chances to win the SEC East and earn a top-8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“The bottom line is we got beat today,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I don’t think we played poorly. We just fell behind early, and we just couldn’t come up with a big two-out hit, and [Jonathan] Cannon threw the ball really well. Sometimes, you’ve just got to tip your cap to your opponent, and we just got beat. Simple as that.”

The Bulldogs (29-20, 12-15 SEC) jumped on UF starter Franco Aleman from the jump. Cole Tate and Josh McAllister crushed singles through the left side with one out. Garrett Blaylock blasted the first pitch he saw from Aleman through a decently strong wind and over the fence in right center field for the early 3-0 lead.

Chaney Rogers added a run in the second with an opposite-field home run to left.

UF (35-16, 17-10) put together its best offensive inning of the game in the bottom of the frame but couldn’t take full advantage. Kendrick Calilao reached on an infield single, advanced to second on a throwing error by the third baseman Blaylock and moved to third on a wild pitch with two outs. After Josh Rivera drew a walk, Sterlin Thompson hit a groundball back up the middle to get the Gators on the board.

Thompson moved into scoring position on a wild pitch by Cannon, but Cory Acton grounded out to second to end the threat.

Aleman settled in after his rough start, giving up just three hits and no earned runs in his final four innings of work. He took advantage of an extremely aggressive Bulldogs lineup to work into the seventh inning before departing after 79 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Gators kept putting pressure on Cannon and the UGA defense, and you just got the feeling that they were one big hit away from getting right back into the game.

As it turned out, that hit never came.

Jacob Young led off the third with a single to left. He stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Calilao grounded out to third to strand him there.

Cannon plunked Kirby McMullen with his first pitch of the fourth inning. McMullen moved into scoring position on a groundout by Thompson. Acton struck out swinging to end the inning.

With two outs in the fifth, Jud Fabian singled to left, Kris Armstrong walked and Calilao reached on an infield single to load the bases. With the tying run on base, McMullen grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

“We just tried to stay as positive as we could, and, hopefully, we were able to get that big hit,” McMullen said. “It seemed like we always needed that big hit with two outs, and we never really got it, but that’s just kind of how baseball goes sometimes.”

UGA reliever Collin Caldwell struck out Nathan Hickey with a pair of runners on with two outs in the sixth.

Hickey’s at bat turned out to be Florida’s last chance to make this a competitive game.

Rogers led off the seventh by reaching on a throwing error by Rivera at short, which ended Aleman’s day. Trey Van Der Weide entered and walked pinch hitter Parks Harber. Randon Jernigan laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt right back at Van Der Weide. Van Der Weide decided to go to third with it but uncorked a fastball that sailed wide of the bag and into left field. A run scored to make it 5-1. Cole Tate finished the scoring with an RBI single off of Jack Leftwich later in the inning.

You never want to be ungrateful about winning an SEC series, but the Gators could’ve really used a sweep this weekend. They’ll enter the final weekend of the regular season one game behind Tennessee in the East standings, but the Volunteers own the tiebreaker via their series win over the Gators. UF will also trail Vanderbilt by either half a game or 1 ½ games depending on the outcome of their game with Ole Miss later on Sunday.

That means that the Gators might need to pull off the impossible next week to win the East or the SEC overall – sweep No. 1 Arkansas on the road. Regardless, the Gators are excited for the challenge ahead.

“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re right in the middle of this thing, and, obviously, it’ll be a great challenge to play Arkansas at their place. But, at the end of the day, if we want to get to the final destination and have an opportunity to play for a national championship, we’re going to have to play Arkansas and teams like Arkansas.”

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.