Game 1 (May 12th)
The No. 5 Florida Gators (36-14, 17-8 SEC) won a nail-biter against the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-30, 5-20 SEC) by a score of 2-1 in the series opener.
Junior ace right-hander Alex Faedo (7-1, 2.33 ERA) took the mound and was brilliant in his seven innings of work. He allowed one earned run, scattered three hits, walked four, and struck out eight Tide batters. After 105 pitches and with the score tied at 1-1, Faedo was pulled for sophomore closer Michael Byrne.
The right-hander was tasked with keeping the game tied in hopes that the Gator offense could come up with a late rally. In the bottom of the eighth, 'Bama threatened to take the lead with runners on first and second with two outs. Byrne remained calm, however, and induced a groundout that he took to first base himself to escape the jam.
After Florida scratched one across in the ninth, Byrne remained in the game to close it out. A one-out single would give the Tide faithful some hope, but it would be to no avail. Byrne would get freshman pinch hitter John Trousdale to fly out and strike out junior leadoff man Chandler Avant to secure his second win of the season.
The Gator offense had just three hits the whole game while scoring late in the seventh and ninth innings to squeak past the Tide in this one. Before highlighting the trio of Gators who had a base knock in the game, here is a rundown of the game winning rally in the ninth inning:
Junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie led off the inning with a single to center field on a 2-2 count. He then advanced to second base on an errant pickoff throw from junior reliever Garrett Suchey. After freshman center fielder Austin Langworthy struck out, junior catcher JJ Schwarz was intentionally walked to bring up sophomore right fielder Nelson Maldonaldo.
A wild pitch would move Guthrie to third base and the red hot Nelly would smack a 3-1 pitch to deep center field for the go-ahead sacrifice fly. It was Maldonaldo's fourth sac fly of the year and now 2-1 Gators.
In addition to Guthrie's 1-4 night, JJ Schwarz went 1-2 with a walk and the game-tying home run in the seventh inning. It was his eighth of the year. The only other Gator to notch a hit was junior first baseman Christian Hicks. He went 1-4 with a single in the second inning.
It is not ideal to beat the worst team in the SEC by one run, but a win is a win. Before recapping the second game of the series, here are my final tidbits on Florida's series opening victory:
- Three Gators were hit by a pitch in this game: Ryan Larson (sixth of the year), JJ Schwarz (second of the year), and Deacon Liput (first of the year).
- This is Alex Faedo's fifth no decision of the year and the seventh time he has gone over 100 pitches in a start.
- Ryan Larson had a rough day on the base paths. He was caught stealing in the first inning and picked off in the eighth inning.
- The Florida lineup struck out 10 times while Alabama's hitters had nine punch outs.
- Guthrie, Langworthy, and freshman designated hitter Keenan Bell bore the brunt of the Gator K's, as they each struck out twice.
- 'Bama had one error in the game (which proved costly), while Florida had none.
- This is Alabama's 20th conference loss of the season.
- 3,142 Tide fans showed up to support their team in the opener.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
Game 2 (May 13th)
The No. 5 Florida Gators (37-14, 18-8 SEC) clinched their sixth consecutive series win over the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-31, 5-21 SEC) with a convincing 13-6 victory on Saturday night.
Sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (6-3, 2.58 ERA) toed the rubber and threw well despite getting touched up a bit. In six innings, Singer allowed five earned runs on six hits while walking three and hitting two. On the flip side, he struck out 10 Tide hitters and had incredible run support to back him up.
When Singer departed at 108 pitches, Florida comfortably led 10-5 heading into the bottom of the seventh. In his place came junior left-hander Nick Horvath. He gave up one run in the inning, but it was unearned as the batter had reached on a Deacon Liput error.
In the eighth, Florida tacked on three more and Horvath worked a perfect inning to keep the lead at 13-6. He capped off the frame with a strikeout and started the ninth the same way before being pulled for senior sidearmer Frank Rubio.
Working past a single and an error, Rubio generated back-to-back groundouts to end the game and give Florida their seventh SEC series win of the season. Brady Singer would move to 6-3 on the season.
Offensively, the Gator bats came to life as they banged out 16 hits and plated 13 runs. They overcame an early 3-1 deficit after the first and scored four in the third, one in the fifth, four in the seventh, and three in the eighth. Every starter in the lineup had at least one base hit.
Due to all the crooked numbers on the board, there is no need to highlight one specific inning as they all played a role in the Gator 'W'. So let's just get right to the offensive dignitaries.
Reinvigorated, the Gator lineup had five players with multiple hits in the contest. First off was leadoff man Ryan Larson. The senior outfielder went 2-5 with a pair of doubles, a run scored, a game-high four RBI's, and a walk.
Two spots below Larson in the three-hole, JJ Schwarz continued to swing a hot bat. The Florida designated hitter went 2-5 with a double, two runs scored, a game-high three walks, and his seventh stolen base of the season.
Behind him in the clean-up spot, Nelson Maldonaldo rode the momentum from his game-winning sac fly in the opener. He posted a 2-4 night with a double, a run scored, two RBI's, and two walks. Adding to the carnage in the heart of the Gator lineup was Austin Langworthy.
After a hitless night on Friday, Langworthy came swinging out of the gates with a 3-6 performance. They were all singles, but still it is good to see this young contributor get back on track. He scored once, had one RBI, and drew a walk as well.
Rounding out the multi-hitters from the eight-hole was junior catcher Mark Kolozsvary. He killed it as he went a perfect 3-3 with two doubles, a game-high three runs scored, two RBI's, and two walks.
For the remainder of the Gator lineup, Dalton Guthrie went 1-2 with a double, two runs scored, and three RBI's out of the two-hole. In the six-hole, sophomore third baseman Jonathan India went 1-5 with a sacrifice fly in the third inning as well as a run scored.
Behind him, Christian Hicks had a 1-4 night with two runs scored and walk. Two spots down in the nine-hole, sophomore Deacon Liput went 1-4 with a run scored, an RBI, and his third sacrifice bunt of the year in the seventh inning.
It is a great sign for the Gators that their bats are coming to life this late in the season. With the best record in the SEC after this win, Florida honed in on the sweep to keep their slight edge over Kentucky. Before recapping the series finale though, here are my final tidbits on the Game 2 victory:
- This is the seventh time this year that Florida has scored double-digit runs in a game.
- Nelly now has seven doubles for the season, Ryan Larson, Dalton Guthrie, and Kolo are now at eight, and JJ sits at nine.
- This is Larson's 11th, JJ's and Nelly's 13th, Langworthy's sixth, and Kolo's fifth multi-hit game of the season.
- This is the fourth time that both Langworthy and Kolo have had three base knocks in a game.
- India's sacrifice fly was his fourth of the year.
- Florida had two errors in the game while 'Bama had one. Apart from Liput's gaffe in the seventh, Dalton Guthrie had a ninth inning error that did not come back to harm Florida. 'Bama's ninth inning error from shortstop Chandler Avant would not hurt the Tide either.
- Though handled thoroughly, 'Bama had some guys swing the bat well in this game. Sophomore right fielder Chandler Taylor went 2-3 with a double, two runs scored, two RBI's, a walk, and a sacrifice fly. Redshirt freshman catcher Alex Webb went 2-3 with a double as well with two RBI's.
- Apart from those two, the only other Tide player with a hit was junior first baseman Hunter Alexander (1-3 with a run scored, an RBI, and a walk).
- Florida tattooed four of Alabama's six pitchers for at least two runs.
- This is the 10th time this season that Brady Singer has thrown over 100 pitches in a game. This is also his ninth straight outing doing so.
- This is the second time all season that Brady has registered double-digit strikeouts in a game.
- Florida's offense showed great patience as they drew 10 walks in the game.
- 'Bama fostered a pretty decent crowd as nearly 4,000 (3,948 to be exact) showed out for another Tide night game.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
Game 3 (May 14th)
For the third straight weekend, the No. 5 Florida Gators (38-14, 19-8 SEC) swept their SEC opponent as they defeated the Crimson Tide (19-32, 5-22 SEC) by a score of 10-5 in the series finale.
Sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (9-0, 3.92 ERA) upped his record to a perfect 9-0 as he delivered 6.2 strong innings for the Gators. Throwing 100 pitches on the dot, the 6'5 North Carolina product allowed five runs (four earned) on just four hits. He struck out three, but walked a career-high six batters.
After a bases-clearing double with two outs in the seventh cut the Gator lead to 7-4, Kowar was replaced with Nick Horvath. On his second straight day out of the bullpen, the left-hander again kept Alabama at bay. The Tide would plate one against him, but this was only because of an errant throw to third base on a steal.
With the lead now 7-5, Horvath used a strikeout to end the seventh and came back in the eighth with the lead upped to 10-5. He worked past a leadoff single in the inning and retired the next three batters in order.
In the ninth, Horvath induced a groundout before being pulled for freshman Garrett Milchin. He finished the day with two strikeouts in 1.2 innings of relief. As for the young right-hander, Milchin cruised as he used a strikeout and a groundout to bring home the sweep.
Florida's offense again took off as they scored double-digit runs yet again while banging out 12 hits. They trailed early at 1-0 after the first, but kicked into high gear with two runs in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the fifth and sixth, and three in the eighth.
The Gators again had five players with multiple hits in the game, which almost accounted for all of their 12 base knocks. Back at it again, Ryan Larson upped the ante from the leadoff spot. He went 3-4 with two runs scored and a walk. Behind him in the two-hole, Dalton Guthrie was one of three players to go yard in the contest.
On a 2-5 day, Dalt blasted a solo shot in the sixth inning to push the lead to 7-1. He finished the game with two runs scored and an RBI. It was his fourth long ball of the year, which surpasses his career total from his first two collegiate seasons.
In the three-hole, JJ Schwarz had just one hit. It was a big one though, as he belted a two-run home run to make it 9-5 in the eighth inning. It was his team-leading ninth homer of the year. After the dust settled from JJ's bomb, cleanup man Nelson Maldonaldo followed suit and went back-to-back with a solo home run. It was Nelly's fifth dinger of the year and extended the lead to 10-5.
Nelly also had a multi-hit night as he went a perfect 2-2 with the home run, a game-high three runs scored, a team-high three RBIs, a walk, and his fourth stolen base of the season.
Moving down to the six-hole, Jonathan India ended the series on a high note as he went 2-4 with the game-tying double in the second inning and a run scored. It was India's ninth two-bagger of the year and ties him with JJ for the team lead.
Last but not least, Deacon Liput was also able to leave Tuscaloosa feeling pretty good. He had a 2-5 day with an RBI single in the fifth inning that increased the lead to 6-1.
Florida did what a great baseball team is supposed to do as they went into hostile territory and swept the worst team in the conference. They did not play down to their opponent's level, but instead played the high-caliber ball that head coach Kevin O'Sullivan consistently demands and expects of them.
This is a great series sweep for Florida, and gives them 10 straight SEC wins dating back to April 22nd against South Carolina (30-21, 12-15 SEC). Heading into a winner-take-all matchup with No. 8 Kentucky this upcoming weekend in Gainesville, the Gators are exactly where they want to be.
Before previewing this highly anticipated series, here are my final tidbits on the series finale and the Alabama series as a whole:
- This is the fourth time in the Kevin O'Sullivan era that Florida has swept the Crimson Tide.
- Florida is now 17-4 against the Tide under Sully's watch.
- This is the eighth time this year that Florida has scored double-digit runs in a game.
- This is Larson's 12th, Guthrie's 17th, Nelly's 14th, and India's ninth multi hit game of the year.
- This is the fourth time this season that Ryan Larson has had at least three base knocks in a game.
- As the designated hitter, Mark Kolozsvary stole his first bag of the year and scored a run in the game.
- Alabama's only significant offensive damage came from sophomore second baseman Cobie Vance. He was the one who hit the bases-clearing double off of Kowar.
- This is Kowar's first outing where he has reached 100 pitches.
- Kowar has now won three straight decisions.
- Florida and Alabama had one error a piece in this game. 'Bama's came in the second from junior third baseman Connor Short and allowed the Gators to take a 2-1 lead. Florida's (as mentioned earlier) was in the eighth and helped 'Bama cut the lead to 7-5.
- For the series, both Florida and Alabama committed three errors. The Tide had one in each game).
- The finale drew the biggest crowd all weekend, as 4,288 fans made it out to Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
So here we go. No. 5 Florida (38-14, 19-8 SEC) vs No. 8 Kentucky (36-16, 18-9 SEC) with the SEC regular season title on the line. The good news is that the Gators come into their final regular season home stand red hot with 10 straight SEC wins. The bad news is that Florida has not taken a series from Kentucky since 2012.
That four-year drought will need to end if Florida wishes to be SEC regular season champions. Among all SEC opponents, the Wildcats have cracked the Sully code as his Gator teams are 13-14 all-time against the Big Blue since he took over in 2008.
With midweek games done for the season, Florida has a little bit more time to rest up and prepare for what has now become the biggest series of 2017. Over the course of the weekend, the Orange and Blue will honor their two seniors in Ryan Larson and Frank Rubio. Their contributions to the Gator baseball program are much appreciated and will not be forgotten.
As for the actual games, the probable starters are the usual suspects. Alex Faedo will get the ball on Thursday night, Brady Singer will throw Friday night, and Jackson Kowar made have an SEC title on the line as he goes for his conference-leading 10th win of the season on Saturday afternoon.
For Kentucky, they will probably counter with sophomore right-hander Justin Lewis (6-2, 3.12 ERA), sophomore right-hander Sean Hjelle (8-2, 3.28 ERA), freshman left-hander Zack Thompson (6-2, 3.88 ERA), or junior left-hander Zach Logue (6-4, 4.50 ERA). From the looks of it, this is going to be quite a battle between these two stacked rotations.
First pitch for Thursday night is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPN. The Friday night contest is also at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network. The series finale is at 1 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network+. All of the games can be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.
As for Alabama (19-32, 5-22 SEC), they conclude the regular season heading to Nashville for a three-game set with the Vanderbilt Commodores (30-21, 13-13 SEC). The Tide's season in the first year of the Greg Goff era will most likely reach a merciful conclusion after this road trip.
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