Game 1 (May 18th)
The No. 5 Florida Gators (38-15, 19-9 SEC) hit a brick wall on Thursday night as the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats (38-16, 19-9 SEC) routed them by a score of 12-4.
Making his final regular season start at the Mac, junior ace Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.89 ERA) had a night to forget. In 5.1 innings of work, he allowed a career-high seven earned runs on a career-high 13 hits. He struck out five, walked one, and hit a batter in what would be his third shortest outing of the season.
Faedo's problems began in the top of the fourth inning. With two outs, Kentucky loaded the bases and leadoff man Tristan Pompey hit a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall for a grand slam. This gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead and they never looked back.
With the score 7-3 in the sixth inning and Faedo at 108 pitches, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan opted to pull him with one out and a runner on first base. Coming on in relief was junior left hander Nick Horvath. He needed just two pitches to induce the inning-ending double play.
In the seventh, Horvath gave up back-to-back singles before fielding a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the inning. With runners on second and third, Horvath's night was done as freshman Tyler Dyson replaced him.
The right-hander's first offering was sent to left field for a single that plated both runs. They were charged to Horvath. Another single followed by a stolen base would put runners on second and third yet again.
They would both score on the fifth single of the inning to make it 11-3 Kentucky. Dyson would eventually get out of the inning and finish the night with two earned runs on four hits and one strikeout in 0.2 innings of work.
In the eighth inning, 6'7 freshman left-hander Cole Maye entered for just his fourth collegiate appearance of the season. He gave up a home run to Riley Mahan, but limited the damage to just one run as Kentucky held a 12-4 advantage with two innings remaining. The homer would be the only hit allowed by Maye, as he struck out two and walked one in his lone inning out of the pen.
In the ninth inning, senior right-hander Frank Rubio was called upon for mop-up duty. He would toss Florida's only perfect frame of the game with two ground outs and a strikeout to keep the deficit at nine runs.
Florida's offense started off hot but then cooled down immensely as the game wore on. The Gators had just eight hits and scored twice in the first, once in the second, and one final time in the ninth inning.
At one point, the Gators led this game 3-0 and had a chance to bust this game open early with the bases loaded in the second inning. They would fail to do so though, keeping Wildcat starter Sean Hjelle (9-2, 3.17 ERA) in the game and sealing their fate once the Wildcats garnered a big lead.
For the Gator offensive dignitaries, two players had multiple hits. In the three-hole, junior catcher JJ Schwarz went 2-3 with a run scored and two walks. A few spots down in the six-hole, sophomore third baseman Jonathan India was Florida's leading batter. He went 3-5 with two RBI's and his ninth stolen base of the year.
For the rest of the Florida lineup, senior center fielder Ryan Larson went 1-3 with a walk out of the leadoff spot. Right behind him, junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie posted a 1-5 night with an RBI single in the second inning. Finally, junior designated hitter Mark Kolozsvary rounds things out as he went 1-4 with a run scored and a walk.
This loss put the Gators in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC, putting huge significance on the remaining two games of the series. Before previewing Florida's turnaround in Game 2, here are my final tidbits on a forgettable series opener:
- This loss snaps Florida's 10-game SEC winning streak.
- This is the second game this season where Florida's pitching has allowed 20 hits. The first was against Stetson on March 21st.
- Kentucky's 14 runs scored against Florida in this game ties them with Auburn for the most scored against the Orange and Blue this year.
- This is the fourth time this season that the Gators have given up double-digit runs to an opponent.
- This is the fifth game this season where Florida did not record an extra-base hit.
- This is JJ Schwarz's 14th and Jonathan India's 10th multi-hit game of the year.
- Freshman center fielder Austin Langworthy plated the first run of the game with his second collegiate sacrifice fly.
- Though hitless from the cleanup spot, sophomore right fielder Nelson Maldonaldo showcased his patience as he drew three walks.
- Kentucky's right-handed pitcher Sean Hjelle is listed at 6'11! Though not throwing exceptionally well, Hjelle was able to stymie the Gators with just one of Florida's three runs being earned on six hits. He stuck out five, but also walked five in 5.2 innings. This victory would tie him for most in the SEC with nine.
- Florida had no errors in this game while Kentucky had one in the first inning. It would come back to bite the Cats as Florida would take a 2-0 lead in the frame.
- Seven of Kentucky's nine batters had multiple hits. Their notable offensive performers (Part I) were: sophomore right fielder Tristan Pompey (1-6 with a grand slam and four RBI's), junior first baseman Evan White (3-5 with a double and two RBI's), senior left fielder Zach Reks (2-5), junior third baseman Luke Becker (2-5 with a run scored)
- Kentucky's notable offensive performers (Part II) were: junior second baseman Riley Mahan (3-5 with a double, a home run, three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk), sophomore designated hitter Kole Cottam (3-5 with a double, two runs scored, and two RBI's), senior center fielder Marcus Carson (3-4 with three runs scored), and senior shortstop Connor Heady (2-4 with two runs scored, two RBI's, and a walk).
- 3,693 fans showed out for tonight's contest.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
Game 2 (May 19th)
With their backs against the wall, the No. 5 Florida Gators (39-15, 20-9 SEC) kept their SEC title hopes alive with a dominating 13-4 victory over the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats (38-17, 19-10 SEC) on Friday evening.
With run support early on, sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (7-3, 2.67 ERA) grabbed the ball and threw a gem against Kentucky. Carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, Singer worked seven strong innings for Florida while allowing just three earned runs on five hits. He walked three and fanned eight Kentucky batters as he brought home his seventh victory of the season.
When Brady's night was up, he had 107 pitches total and Florida comfortably led 11-3 entering the eighth inning. On for the second straight night was Frank Rubio. With the situation completely reversed, Frank threw a perfect eighth to keep the lead at eight.
In the ninth, freshman Kirby McMullen entered to mercifully end Kentucky's night. The Wildcats would load the bases against him with two outs, but Kirby remained unfazed as he generated the game-ending fly out to Dalton Guthrie. He would finish the night with a stat line of one hit and one walk in one inning of work.
Florida's offense sought and got revenge for the drubbing they suffered less than 24 hours before. Banging out 16 hits, the Gators scored twice in the second, four times in the third, once in the fourth, four times again in the fifth, and three times in the eighth to demolish Kentucky by a score of 13-4.
With Florida being in control the whole way, let's just jump to the offensive performers. Four Gators had multiple hits in the game as everyone except Ryan Larson had a base hit. First up was Dalton Guthrie. Out of the two-hole, the Gator shortstop went a perfect 3-3 with a run scored, an RBI, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning.
Going down a couple spots to the five-hole, Austin Langworthy had a 2-4 night with three runs scored, an RBI, and a walk. Right behind the freshman, Jonathan India again swung a hot stick as he went 3-4 with a double, three runs scored, and a walk.
Rounding out the multi-hitters from the eight-hole was Mark Kolozsvary. As the man who jumpstarted the Gator offense with a two-run blast in the second inning, Kolo had a night to remember at the dish. He went 3-4 with a home run, three runs scored, a career-high five RBI's, and one walk.
The bottom of the lineup production was not just Kolo. Right after him in the nine-hole, sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput went 1-4 with a double, four RBI's, and two sacrifice flies on the night.
For the remainder of the lineup, Ryan Larson did everything but get a hit as he scored, drove in a run, and walked in an 0-5 effort. In the three-hole, JJ Schwarz went 1-5 with an RBI single in the fourth inning that made it 7-0.
Behind him, Nelson Maldonaldo went 1-3 with a run scored and a walk. Even in Nelly's place, pinch hitter Nick Horvath went 1-1 with his eighth hit of the season and a run scored. Finally, Christian Hicks went 1-4 with a walk and a run scored on Liput's first sacrifice fly.
The Gators bounced back in a big way to set up a winner-take-all game in the series finale. Singer's outing would have been enough, but couple that with a double-digit offensive outburst and there was no way Florida was losing tonight.
Before recapping the series finale, here are my final tidbits on the blowout Game 2 victory:
- This is the seventh game this season where Florida's offense has scored double-digit runs.
- This is Guthrie's 18th, Langworthy's seventh, India's 11th, and Kolo's sixth multi-hit game of the season.
- India's double was his team-leading 11th of the year while Liput's was his eighth of the 2017 campaign.
- Kolo's home run was his third of the season and now surpasses his season total from 2016.
- Guthrie's sacrifice bunt was his first of the season.
- Liput's pair of sac flies now give him three on the year.
- Kentucky had two errors in this game while Florida had one. Kentucky's mishap would eventually put them in a 6-0 hole after the third inning. Florida's error should have been the final out of the game, but instead loaded the bases. It would not matter though as the Wildcats would not score.
- The perpetrator of Florida's lone error was Christian Hicks. It was his team-leading 10th of the season.
- Kentucky's notable offensive performers were Tristan Pompey (2-4 with a double that broke up the no-no in the sixth, an RBI, and a walk) and Kole Cottam (2-4 with a home run, two RBI's, and one run scored).
- In the fifth inning of this game down 11-0, Kentucky manager Nick Mingione was ejected for arguing over a ball that clearly did not hit batter Marcus Carson. It was his first ejection as a head coach.
- Coach Kevin O'Sullivan won his 435th career game in an Orange and Blue uniform tonight. This victory now moves him past Joe Arnold and in sole possession of second on the all-time Florida wins list. He now only trails Dave Fuller, who sits in first at 554 career victories.
- 4,153 fans were in attendance at the Mac tonight.
Game 3 (May 20th)
In the series finale, the No. 5 Florida Gators (40-15, 21-9 SEC) clinched the 14th SEC regular season championship in school history with a 6-4 victory over the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats (38-18, 19-11 SEC).
With a conference championship at stake, sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (10-0, 3.84 ERA) delivered in the clutch. Upping his record to a perfect 10-0, Kowar shut Kentucky down. In 6.1 innings, he allowed just two earned runs on eight hits. He struck out four and walked two while hitting two Kentucky batters.
At 95 pitches in the seventh, Kowar was pulled after issuing a one-out walk with the Gators leading 6-2. From this point on, everyone at the Mac knew these were going to be the eight toughest outs of the regular season.
Pitching for the third straight game was Frank Rubio. On Senior Day, Rubio gave up a first pitch single that put runners on first and third. Just like that, he was done. In Frank's place came Nick Horvath.
Putting Thursday night way behind him, the left-hander used a line out and a groundout to escape the inning with no damage. In the eighth, a leadoff walk would prompt Sully to bring in sophomore closer Michael Byrne for a six-out save.
After registering a strikeout, Byrne gave up a two-run homer to Marcus Carson that cut the lead to 6-4. One run would be charged to Horvath and the other to Byrne. The pressure was really on now.
A single would bring the tying run to the plate with the top of the lineup looming, but Byrne kept the poise that earned him the role of Florida's stopper. He struck out the next two batters to bring Florida three outs away from an SEC championship.
In the ninth inning, Byrne was tasked with the heart of the Kentucky lineup. Due up first was three-hole Zach Reks. He lined out on two pitches. Next up was clean-up man Luke Becker. He went down looking on strikes. Now with one out remaining, only Riley Mahan stood in front of Florida's SEC Championship.
On the first pitch, Mahan hit a ground ball right to JJ Schwarz at first base. JJ fielded the ball and stepped on first base for the final out of the game. The celebration was on immediately as the Florida players stormed out of the dugout and jumped up and down in-between first and second base. It was an awesome sight to see as it's not every day that a team can clinch a conference title in their home stadium.
Offensively, the Gators banged out just seven hits in this game, but they were all timely. It is only fitting that they had to overcome an early 2-0 hole as they scored three times in the fourth, twice in the fifth, and once in the sixth to down the Wildcats.
One Gator had multiple hits in the game and is hands down my MVP of the contest. As Florida's cleanup man, Nelson Maldonaldo went 2-3 with a three-run home run, a double, a run scored, a game-high four RBI's, and a walk.
Nelly's long ball was his sixth of the year and gave Florida a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning. In the very next inning, Nelly smacked a two-bagger into left field that plated Ryan Larson and made it 4-2 Florida. Nelly cannot take all the credit though, as the top of the lineup got the job done in the biggest game of the season.
All of Florida's first four batters had at least one hit. Celebrating his Senior Day at the top of the lineup was Ryan Larson. He went 1-5 with a run scored and his seventh stolen base of the season. Behind him, Dalton Guthrie went 1-2 before having to leave the game with a sprained ankle in the fourth inning.
Right after Dalt in the three-hole, JJ Schwarz went 1-2 with a double, a team-high two runs scored, a walk, and a hit by pitch. Skipping down to the six-hole, Jonathan India went 1-4 with a single in the fourth inning.
At one point 0-3 in conference play, the Florida Gators showed some major resolve as they finished 21-9 to claim the SEC regular season title. Winning this series was about more than just the conference title though. It showed that in cases where Faedo does not get the job done, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar will be there waiting to pick him up.
What those two young men did this weekend was incredible given the circumstances. Like they have done all season, both Brady and Jackson have reassured the Gator Nation that they can be relied on when the lights shine the brightest.
I'll dive into the SEC title and what it means moving forward into the postseason, but first here are my final tidbits on both the series finale and the Kentucky series as a whole:
- This is Florida's first series victory over Kentucky since 2012. Their win on Sunday snapped a four-year losing streak to the Cats.
- Sully is now an even 15-15 against Kentucky.
- This Florida's fourth SEC regular season championship under Sully's watch.
- This is Nelly's 14th multi-hit game of the season.
- Jackson Kowar finishes the regular season as the SEC's wins leader with 10.
- Nelly's double was his eighth of the year and JJ's was his 10th.
- Though hitless in the contest, Mark Kolozsvary drew two walks, scored a run, and stole his second base of the year on an 0-2 day.
- Deacon Liput had a rough regular season finale as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts.
- Kentucky's notable offensive performers were: Evan White (3-4 with two doubles and two runs scored), Zach Reks (2-5 with an RBI), Kole Cottam (2-4 with a double), and Marcus Carson (1-4 with two RBI's and a run scored).
- Kentucky had two errors in this game while Florida had none. Neither error would hurt the Wildcats.
- For the series, Kentucky committed five errors while Florida had just one.
- Nearly 4,000 fans (3,938 actually) showed out to watch the Gators clinch the SEC title at home.
- On that note, the Gators set a new season average attendance record at the Mac with 4,015!
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com
So technically, the No. 5 Florida Gators (40-15, 21-9 SEC) have to "share" the SEC title with the No. 6 LSU Tigers (39-17, 21-9 SEC) as the Bayou Bengals posted an identical conference record. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but here's mine. If you beat a team two out of three in a series during the regular season and end up with the same record, a head-to-head tiebreaker simply applies here.
I understand that the SEC gets that right by giving Florida the No. 1 overall seed in the SEC Tournament, but by no means should they have to "share" a regular season conference title with a team they bested earlier in the season. Now it's not all bad since LSU is my future law school, but that does not take away from the fact that I believe the title is really Florida's since they won the regular season series.
My opinions aside, it is still impressive how Florida rallied back to win the toughest conference in college baseball. In addition to a 10-game SEC winning streak, the Gators won eight of ten SEC series (sweeping then No. 23 ranked Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama) with just one series loss a piece coming at home (Tennessee) and on the road (Auburn).
Florida deserves to celebrate a tad after an arduous regular season, but they will need to soon refocus for the SEC Tournament. The Gators are scheduled to play at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and will face the winner of the No. 8 Auburn (34-22, 16-14 SEC) and No. 9 Ole Miss (32-24, 14-16 SEC) matchup. The Gators got swept by the Tigers at Auburn and swept the Rebels in Gainesville. Personally, I want Auburn.
The game can be seen on the SEC Network and the venue will be Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. Keep in mind that No. 1 seeded Florida has been in the last three SEC Tournament title games and won the whole thing in 2015.
As for No. 7 Kentucky (38-18, 19-11 SEC), they will have to settle with the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament. They are slated to play the winner of the No. 6 Vanderbilt (33-21-1, 15-13-1 SEC) and No. 11 South Carolina (32-23, 13-17 SEC) matchup. The time for the Wildcats' game will be at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and it can be seen on the SEC Network.
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