Nelson Maldonado stepped into the box down a run but with a runner on base in the eighth inning. The senior, playing in his last series at McKethan Stadium jumped on the first pitch he saw and crushed it into the left field bleachers to give the Gators a 10-9 lead. That’s the last thing he remembers.
“It was a changeup up and I just put a good swing on it,” Maldonado said. “At that point the adrenaline takes over. I don’t really remember running the bases.”
The Florida Gators have been to the College World Series four straight seasons but have put themselves in a position where even making the NCAA Tournament isn’t a guarantee in 2019.
That’s why in the fourth inning, trailing Tennessee 9-2 Kevin O’Sullivan felt compelled to bring his team together.
“We got together in the bottom of the fourth — we were down 9-2 and basically the message was no one’s going to feel sorry for us,” O’Sullivan said to his team. “We’ve had such a long tradition here and a long history of playing the game the right way and we’re certainly not going to put our heads down and start feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Tennessee pushed a run across the board in the top of the first but the Gators stormed back with two runs on four consecutive two out hits in their half of the inning to take a 2-1 lea. Mace settle down before the wheels came off in the third inning.
Tennessee took the sophomore to task. The Vols scored three runs on three hits in the third inning before blowing the door off the hinges in the fourth. Connor Pavolony doubled to start the frame and Mace didn’t do himself any favors. Ricky Martinez laid down a sacrifice bunt but Mace’s throw was wide to first allowing Pavolony to score and Martinez to advance to second. Mace gave up three more singles before getting lifted for Kirby McMullen. The sophomore ace night was 3.1 innings, with 10 hits allowed, 9 runs (7 earned), 1 walk and 2 strikeouts.
With a 9-2 deficit McMullen was sent into the game essentially just to eat up innings for a Gator staff that is dealing with inconsistency and injury on the mound and in the bullpen.
He did much more than that. McMullen threw 3.2 scoreless allowing just two hits while the Gators’ bats came crawling back.
“Kirby did a hell of a job on the mound,” Maldonado said of McMullen.
Florida scored a run after their team meeting in the dugout in the fourth and another in the fifth. The seventh inning is when the momentum shifted and the Gators found new life.
Brady McConnell and Austin Langworthy both singled to chase Tennessee starter Garrett Stallings from the game. Maldonado struck out but Brady Smith was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Wil Dalton wore one as well to score a run and cut into the lead. Kendrick Calilao lofted a ball into right field to plate another run. Tennessee went back to the bullpen but Andrew Schultz walked Cory Acton after a long battle then Jacob Young made it a one run game with a two-RBI single to right center.
Maldonado’s dinger gave Florida the lead in the bottom of the eighth and freshman Nolan Crisp closed the door. The Gators improve to 10-15 in SEC play and 33-17 overall.
The 7-run comeback is the largest comeback win for UF since March 24, 2010 where Gators overcame an 8-0 deficit over Florida Gulf Coast (won 13-8).