Florida’s starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford notched a quick, 11-pitch first inning for the Gators. After issuing a one-out walk on No. 2 hole hitter amd right fielder Zac Zellers, Crawford followed with consecutive groundouts.
The orange and blue’s momentum carried into their first offensive showing of the afternoon when centerfielder Harrison Bader pulled a one-out single into left field off UK senior LHP Jerad Grundy. Bader scored for the Gators off of senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit’s two-out RBI single through the left side to put UF ahead early on.
Crawford’s heat continued in the second, retiring the Wildcats in order to bring the bottom chunk of the Gators’ batting order to the plate.
Sophomore second baseman Josh Tobias pulled a leadoff home run over the left-field wall to notch his second homer of the series and of his colligate career.
“I’m seeing the ball,” Tobias said. “It worked on it a lot over the week — just getting my foot down and seeing the ball well and just putting a good swings on them.”
With one out and runners on second and third stemming from a double steal, Bader RBI singled into left field to up Florida’s lead 3-0. The freshman is currently riding a four-game hitting streak.
In the third inning, Kentucky leadoff batter and center fielder Austin Cousino hit a two-out, ground-rule double into McKethan Stadium’s visiting bullpen. However, he was left stranded after Crawford followed through by striking out Zellers looking.
After going 0-4 at the plate Friday, UF third baseman Zack Powers rifled a two-out single into left field but was left stranded off Tobias’ fly out to center.
Crawford maintained control until the sixth inning when he issued the leadoff walk to Zellers, followed by an RBI triple to Friday’s starting pitcher and Saturday’s first baseman A.J. Reed, squeezing the contest 3-1. UK second baseman J.T. Riddle then chalked up a sacrifice grounder to bring Reed across the plate, putting the scoreboard at 3-2. The Gators failed to answer back in the sixth, when Grundy put down Florida in order.
Florida’s junior starter walked Kentucky’s leadoff hitter again in the seventh and pegged the next batter to come to the plate. Crawford then walked shortstop Matt Reida to load the bases with no outs for the Wildcats, marking his last batter faced for the day.
Crawford’s finished his outing at 93 pitches, allowing three hits, four walks and two strikeouts against the 27 batters he faced.
“It looked like he was more aggressive today,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just unfortunate that he couldn’t quite throw strikes there in the seventh.”
Left-hander Bobby Poyner replaced Crawford on the hill, but off his first pitch, Cousino launched a two-run single into left field to put the Wildcats ahead 4-3.
Zellers followed with an infield single to load the bases yet again. Reed’s sacrifice fly to centerfield upped the Wildcats’ lead 5-3. Reed’s single up the middle put the score at 6-3, positioning runners on first and second. This prompted another pitching change for the Gators in the seventh, this time from Poyner to freshman RHP Mike Vinson.
Vinson rifled a fly-out on third baseman Max Kuhn before coach Kevin O’Sullivan replaced the freshman with left-hander Corey Stump to face lefty batter and Wildcats designated hitter Jeff Boehm. However, Kentucky replaced Boehm with right-handed pinch hitter Thomas Bernal.
On his first pitch, Stump pegged Bernal to load the bases with two outs for Kentucky. He then pegged left fielder Kyle Barrett to bring the Wildcats to their seventh run of the afternoon. Stump struck out catcher Michael Thomas to bring Florida back to the plate.
The seventh inning also marked a pitching change for the Wildcats, switching from left-hander Grundy to right-hander Chandler Shepard.
After Shepard issued a one-out walk to shortstop Casey Turgeon, Bader nailed an RBI double off the left-field wall to pinch the gap 7-4. However, Bader was stranded on the base paths as Florida failed to produce further at the plate.
Stump hit Cousino before he was pulled in the eighth inning and was replaced by right-hander Aaron Rhodes. The redshirt freshman held off the Wildcats at 7 to bring the Gators back to the plate.
Catcher Taylor Gushue led off the Gators in the eighth with a single into right field. Tobias also pulled a one-out single into right field after right fielder Zellers dove, missing the fly ball. UF right fielder Connor Mitchell grounded out to second to move runners to second and third for freshman designated hitter Mike Fahrman. This prompted yet another pitching change to RHP Trevor Gott who struck the freshman out.
The Wildcats continued to score into the ninth inning, when Thomas pulled an RBI double into left field to bring Kentucky up 8-4. Reida grounded out to Tobias to bring Lucas Witt across the plate and Cousino homered over the right-field wall to put the Wildcats ahead 11-4. Turgeon scored off of Ramjit’s groundout after the sophomore was walked to finalize the score at 11-5.
“In the seventh, eighth and ninth we just fell apart,” O’Sullivan said.
Seven of Kentucky’s 11 runs were scored by batters who were either walked or hit by a pitch Saturday.
“I did not see that coming. I did not see a total breakdown in the pitching side of things in the last three innings. “
A bright spot following Florida’s loss Saturday was freshman Bader who finished the day matching his career-high in hits (3).
“We’re going to come tomorrow, we’re going to fight and stay positive,” Bader said. “The game’s behind us and we’re going to win.”
The series showdown will take place at McKethan Stadium Sunday at noon.