Preston Tucker hit a first inning home run and No. 5 Florida got a strong start from junior Hudson Randall, holding off a late rally to post a 5-3 win over No. 3 Kentucky in the opener of the series, on a gorgeous Thursday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (36-10, 14-8 Southeastern Conference) fell behind in an early 1-0 hole after Tucker’s 12th homer of the year, with the Gators adding three runs in the third inning, which would be all that Randall would need for the Gators, despite UK’s single run in the fifth and two-run homer in the seventh. The SEC series-opening loss is the fourth for the Wildcats this year, with UK rallying to win the series in three of those opening losses.
The Wildcats were led offensively by a two-hit game from rightfielder Cameron Flynn, who totaled a two-out hit in the seventh and a RBI double in the fifth inning. Michael Williams launched his second homer of the year, a two-run blast to left in the seventh, adding a hit in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate. UK also got hits from Austin Cousino, Thomas McCarthy, Luke Maile and Zac Zellers.
UK starter Taylor Rogers (5-3) turned in his fourth quality start of the year in the losing effort, working six innings, allowing seven hits and four runs – three earned – walking one and striking out five. Freshman southpaw Sam Mahar took over for Rogers in the seventh working 2.1 innings, allowing only one hit and no walks, striking out one. Tim Peterson came on in the ninth and got the final two outs of the inning for the UK bullpen.
Florida (34-12, 13-9 SEC) starter Randall (5-1) was solid in his 10th start of the year, working 6.2 innings, allowing six hits and three runs, walking one and striking out four. Veteran lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez took over for Randall working the final 2.1 innings for his first save of the year, allowing two hits, one walk and striking out three.
The series will resume on Friday at 7 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available in Central Kentucky on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. The game will also be televised live on CSS, with Matt Stewart and Joe Beckwith voicing the action.
The Gators got on the board in the top of the first inning, as Tucker lined his 12th homer of the year over the rightfield fence.
Florida plated three runs on four hits in the top of the third inning, taking a 4-0 lead. Josh Tobias led off with a single up the middle and Nolan Fontana then blooped a single down the leftfield line. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, Tucker singled on a bloop knock to leftfield, scoring one, with the second run scoring on an errant throw from leftfield, with Tucker advancing into scoring position on the error. After a line out from Mike Zunino, Brian Johnson scored Tucker with a single to leftfield.
UK got on the board in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Zellers led off with a single up the middle, taking second on Riddle’s sacrifice bunt. Flynn then scored Zellers with a double off the wall in right-centerfield.
The Wildcats cut the lead with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Flynn reached on a two-out single up the middle. Williams then belted his second homer of the year, a towering blast over the leftfield fence to cut the lead to 4-3.
Florida tacked on an insurance run in the ninth inning, as Austin Maddox led off with a single to leftfield, with pinch runner Connor Mitchell taking second on a sacrifice bunt. Justin Shafer then singled to centerfield, with Mitchell sliding in under the tag for the fifth UF run of the game.