GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A combination of strong offense and a strong start from Brady Singer lifted the No. 5 Florida baseball team to a 14-3 win over No. 6 Kentucky on Friday night to even the series and keep the Gators in a tie for first place with LSU at the top of the SEC leaderboard.
The series — and the SEC regular-season champion — will be decided Saturday. The Gators (39-15, 20-9 SEC) already secured a share of the SEC East title. Florida will secure at least a share of the school’s fourth conference title in 10 years under coach Kevin O’Sullivan with a win or an LSU loss to Mississippi State.
“It’s amazing how it always comes down to the last game, Game 30,” O’Sullivan said. “But that just goes to show how much parity there is in this league. It’s fun to be a part of it, and we’re playing for something.”
Florida’s offense got back to its hot-hitting ways Friday, knocking down 16 hits and drawing 7 walks. The Gators received contributions up and down the lineup, with every starter either reaching base or driving in a run.
Catcher Mark Kolozsvary opened scoring in the second inning with a 2-run home run to right field and finished the game 3-for-4 at the plate with a career-high 5 RBI. Jonathan India and Dalton Guthrie each also had 3 hits while India scored a career-high-tying 3 runs. Second baseman Deacon Liput put up a career-high-tying 4 RBI on a pair of sacrifice flies and a 2-RBI double. Nick Horvath, who entered as a defensive substitution in the seventh inning, recorded his first hit since April 1.
“It was a good night, offensively” O’Sullivan said. “We needed it to be. It was important that we put ourselves in position to hopefully win an SEC championship [Saturday].”
Following Kolozsvary’s home run, the Gators scored 4 runs in the third, 1 in the fourth, 4 in the fifth and 3 in the eighth. It was a needed improvement after being shut down for most of the series opener on Thursday.
“Especially after what happened to us last night, [we needed to] just get on the board first and keep attacking them,” India said.
The run support was more than enough for Singer, who was unstoppable for his first 5 innings on the mound. He retired the first 9 batters he faced in order with 4 strikeouts before getting into his first jam of the night by walking the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the fourth. With Kentucky’s Troy Squires at to the plate, Singer quickly went ahead in the count 0-2 before Squires fouled off the next 2 pitches.
Singer stepped off the mound and took a deep breath before finally striking Squires out. As the Kentucky player walked back to the dugout, Singer spun around, pumped his right fist in the air and shouted in excitement after getting out of the only jam he had to face on the night.
“That was big,” Singer said. “I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. I kind of dropped my arm a little bit and that cost us 3 walks, but I got out of it.”
— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) May 20, 2017
Kentucky (38-17, 19-10 SEC) broke up the no-hitter in the sixth with a Tristan Pompey leadoff double and got onto the scoreboard in the seventh with a 2-run home run from Kole Cottam. The Wildcats added a third run on an RBI single from Pompey.
Singer went 7 innings and gave up 3 runs on 5 hits to improve to 7-3 on the season. He struck out 8 batters and only walked 3.
Senior Frank Rubio and freshman Kirby McMullen tossed scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to close out the game.
And now, it sets up a showdown to close out the regular season on Saturday to determine who gets the hardware.
Florida sophomore Jackson Kowar (9-0, 3.92 ERA) will face off against Kentucky’s Justin Lewis (6-2, 3.23). First pitch is set for 1 p.m.
“There’s a lot of people invested in this,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll give it our best shot. It won’t be easy. … It’ll come down to who executes on the mound and who gets timely hits. Somebody is going to have to beat somebody’s really good guy at the end.”