GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One of the hottest teams in the country plays host to one of the best stories in the SEC this spring with the regular-season conference championship on the line.
How’s that for late-season drama?
No. 5 Florida (38-14, 19-8 SEC) opens a 3-game series with No. 6 Kentucky (37-16, 18-9) at McKethan Stadium on Thursday night as the Gators enter this final series with a 1-game lead atop the conference standings.
In addition to trying to hold off the Wildcats, the Gators also have to keep an eye on LSU (18-9) and Mississippi State (17-10), who clash in Starkville, Miss., this weekend.
Florida, which has won 10 straight SEC games and 12 of its last 13 contests overall, is vying for its first SEC regular-season title since 2014 and its fourth under coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
“It’s important. It’s important to a lot of people,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously the ultimate goal is to win a national championship, but this is one of the goals that we set out every year to do (is) win a SEC championship. It’s important.”
Kentucky, meanwhile, is contending for just its second regular-season crown with the other coming in 2006.
The Wildcats have won 5 straight games overall and swept Tennessee last weekend to keep pace with the Gators.
They lead the SEC in hitting with a .322 batting average. For that matter, they also rank first in runs scored, doubles, total bases, slugging percentage, hits, on-base percentage, RBIs, sac bunts and rank second in the conference with 61 home runs. On the mound, meanwhile, they rank second in the league with a 3.33 ERA.
No one in Kentucky’s primary starting lineup is batting worse than .271, while 5 players are hitting .336 or better.
Evan White leads the way at .381 with 19 doubles, a triple, 8 home runs and 32 RBIs; Tristan Pompey is closed behind at .379 with 15 doubles, 8 homers and 35 RBIs; Zach Reks is batting .368 with 15 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers and 41 RBIs; Riley Mahan is batting .343 and leads the team with 21 doubles, 3 triples, 13 homers and 55 RBI; and Troy Squires is batting .336 with 10 doubles, a homer and 25 RBIs.
Their best pitcher might be senior left-handed closer Logan Salow, who holds a 1.39 ERA, 10 saves and 63 strikeouts with 8 walks over 45 1/3 innings.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I’ve got a great deal of respect for Kentucky. It’s going to be challenging for us,” O’Sullivan said. “They’ve got 5 left-handers and 2 switch-hitters in their lineup so they’ll have 7 lefties in the lineup essentially against 3 right-handed starters. So it will be a difficult lineup to throw to, and they’ve got enough starting pitching — their starting pitching has been very consistent all year long. They’ve got a guy at the end, left-hander that they like. So I think it’s going to be challenging, and it’s going to be a very interesting weekend.”
Series schedule/pitching matchups for Florida vs. Kentucky
Thursday, 7 p.m. | Florida RHP Alex Faedo (7-1, 2.33 ERA) vs. Kentucky RHP Sean Hjelle (8-2, 3.28)
Friday, 7 p.m. | Florida RHP Brady Singer (6-3, 2.58) vs. Kentucky LHP Zach Logue (6-4, 4.50)
Saturday, 1 p.m. | Florida RHP Jackson Kowar (9-0, 3.92) vs. Kentucky RHP Justin Lewis (6-2, 3.23)
TV info/how to watch online
The series opener Thursday night is on ESPN while the game Friday night is on SEC Network and the finale can be seen on SEC Network+. All three games can be streamed online via WatchESPN.
-Florida leads the all-time series 136-66-1, but it’s been much closer than that over the last decade. In the last 10 seasons, the teams are tied 16-16 with both winning 5 series. Neither team has swept the other in that span, and the average score during that stretch has been Florida 6.4 to Kentucky 6.2.
-Gators ace Alex Faedo has a 1.59 ERA over his last 5 starts, spanning 34 innings.
-Florida slugger JJ Schwarz is batting .417 (20-for-48) since April 21 with 5 home runs and 19 RBIs in the span of 14 games.
-Closer Michael Byrne remains tied for the Florida single-season saves record with 13.
-O’Sullivan (434-203) needs 1 more win to move into second-place all-time among Florida coaches. He’s currently tied with Joe Arnold, who led the Gators from 1984-94.
-Kentucky has never won more than 20 SEC games in a season. The Wildcats’ 18 wins presently are tied for the second-best total in program history, as are their 16 wins against ranked opponents.