Sunday, March 27, 2016

UF Baseball: #1 Florida Drops Series to Kentucky

The No. 1 Florida Gators (23-3, 4-2 in SEC play) dropped their first series of the year as the Kentucky Wildcats (17-6, 4-2 in SEC play) defeated them 5-4 in the rubber match. This loss stings as the Gators were leading 4-3 in the bottom of the tenth inning with one out before Dane Dunning allowed a game-tying home run to Kentucky's Riley Mahan.

After a hitting a batter and issuing a walk, Dunning was pulled in favor of Brady Singer. The freshman allowed a single (which might have ended the game had it not deflected off of Singer) and then, with the bases now loaded, threw a wild pitch that Kentucky's Tyler Marshall easily scored on to end the game. Dane Dunning would get the loss as he was responsible for the runner on third.

Let's backtrack now and look at how this game reached its exhilarating conclusion. Alex Faedo (5-0) was the Gator starter and was masterful through five innings as he allowed no runs. Like last week, however, Faedo ran into trouble in the sixth inning as Kentucky tagged him for two runs and knocked him out of the game.

Faedo would finish with a stat line of 96 pitches thrown in 5.2 innings, two earned runs allowed on five hits, eight strikeouts, one walk, and two hitter batters. He would receive his first no decision of the year.

After Faedo's departure, Shaun Anderson came in and had a tough outing as the Wildcats notched three hits against him and tied the game at three a piece in the bottom of the seventh. Anderson would be relieved in the seventh and finished with one strikeout in 0.2 innings of work.

After Anderson left, Dane Dunning came in and did a great job in relief until the tenth inning. In addition to suffering his first loss of the season, Dunning finished the game with two earned runs allowed on two hits, a strikeout, a walk, and two hit batsmen.

Offensively, the Gator lineup was shutdown after putting up three runs in the second inning. The bats would reawaken in the top of the tenth inning, when JJ Schwarz singled home Buddy Reed from second base to give the Gators a short-lived 4-3 lead.

Besides Schwarz's clutch hit, Florida could not figure out Kentucky's pitching once starter Kyle Cody left the game. Reliever Zach Strecker delivered a remarkable three innings of no-hit relief before Sean Hjelle came in and briefly gave up the lead in the tenth.

Three Gators notched multiple hits today. Dalton Guthrie went 2-5 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot. JJ Schwarz went 2-5 as well from the three-hole with what could have been the game-winning RBI in the tenth inning.

Finally, Nelson Maldonado delivered a 2-4 performance out of the seven spot as he doubled twice, drove in one, and scored once. He would be the only Gator with an extra base hit in the game.

Final Takeaway:
This is a tough loss for the No. 1 Florida Gators to swallow with a rematch against the No. 11 Florida State Seminoles (18-5) looming on Tuesday. Before I preview this game, let me give my final tidbits from this heartbreaking loss to Kentucky:

  • Kentucky has now won the last four series against Florida.
  • The Gator pitching staff had three wild pitches today. Alex Faedo, Shaun Anderson, and Brady Singer were the perpetrators.
  • Buddy Reed drew a team-high two walks today but did not record a hit. He also stole his 11th base of the season today.
  • Sean Hjelle, who it appeared had cost Kentucky the game, would earn his third win of the season after the Wildcats walked it off in the bottom of the tenth.
  • Kentucky had two players with three hits in today's game. Left fielder Zach Reks went 3-4 with a double and a run scored, while shortstop Riley Mahan went 3-4 with a double, two RBI's, and a run scored.
  • Florida's pitching staff struck out 11 Wildcats today, compared to just four strikeouts on the Kentucky side all coming from starter Kyle Cody. 
  • Kentucky out-hit Florida 12-7 and both sides played sloppy defense as Florida committed two errors and Kentucky had three.
  • The Gators had plenty of opportunities to put this game away. They left nine runners on base. Kentucky left 12 on base.
  • Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was ejected in the top of the third inning after arguing balls and strikes. This would ultimately come back to haunt the Gators in regards to pitching personnel decisions later in the game.
  • Now on a two-game losing streak, Florida will most likely be unseated as the No. 1 college baseball team in the land. However, I will be shocked if they drop out of the Top 5.
After losing their first series of the year, which of course comes against an SEC opponent, Florida now turns their attention to round two with their hated rival Florida State. Sully might go with Jackson Kowar for the start as Dane Dunning threw 52 pitches in relief today. Another potential starter could be the 6'7 freshman lefty Hunter Bowling. Whoever Sully picks, I'm sure that guy will answer the bell and throw a gem.

The second meeting of these in-state rivals will commence at 6 p.m. this Tuesday (March 29th) in Jacksonville. This will be the final game of a very successful month for Florida, and it can be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network. Unfortunately (and for some unknown reason) the game will not be televised.

After the Florida State game, the Gators return to McKethan Stadium for a three-game series with the No. 2 Texas A&M Aggies (21-3, 4-2). This will be an incredible series and may be a preview of the SEC Championship in May!

As for Kentucky, they are obviously pretty pumped after taking a home series from the No. 1 team in the country. I give them credit, they fought hard all weekend and scratched out a well-deserved series win. Next up or the Wildcats is two more games at home against the Northern Kentucky Norse (7-16) and the Xavier Musketeers (8-15). 

After the mid-week action, the Wildcats will head to Knoxville for the weekend as they take on the Tennessee Volunteers (14-9, 2-4 in SEC play) for three games. The first game between these SEC East rivals is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

*All stats accredited to

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