HOOVER, Ala. – Top-seed Florida rallied with the go-ahead run in the eighth inning in a back-and-forth affair, lifting the No. 7 Gators to a 6-5 win over Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Semifinals, keeping UK from its first all-time berth in the championship game, on a steamy Saturday afternoon at the Hoover Met.
Kentucky (35-23) and Florida squared off in a thriller, with the Wildcats jumping out to a three-run lead after two innings before UF rallied to take a 4-3 lead into the sixth inning. UK then plated two runs in the sixth inning to take a 5-4 lead after six innings. The Gators tied the game with a two-out RBI single in the seventh, before getting the go-ahead run across on a two-out RBI single in the eighth inning.
“First of all, I am really proud of our kids on how they played during our four games here,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Credit to Kevin (O’Sullivan) and his crew on winning today. We played them five times this year. Four of them were tight. They compete really well. I thought our kids did as well. We just were short. I am really proud of our kids.”
The Wildcats were led at the plate by Max Kuhn, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles down each line. UK also got a two-RBI game from Austin Cousino, who went 1-for-3 with two runs and a steal. Ka’ai Tom added a pair of hits and an RBI, with Micheal Thomas, Kyle Barrett and JaVon Shelby each notching hits. A.J. Reed was walked once and was hit by a pitch, and has now reached safely in 54 of 58 games in 2014.
“Right now we are swinging the bats really well,” Reed said. “Our pitching is coming around so it’s looking good for us. Our last conference series in Georgia and our four games here, we played really well. We have some momentum going into the regionals. We are excited to see where we go. We feel like we are a team that no one wants to face right now. We have a lot of confidence.”
UK was seeking its fourth win over Florida in five games, with UK finishing with a 3-2 record vs. the SEC Champion Gators. UK opened the SEC Tournament with wins over No. 24 Alabama, No. 7 Florida and a thrilling 7-6 win over No. 17 Mississippi State in extra innings on Thursday. UK’s 3-1 record in the SEC Tournament marks its best in school history and its best finish in program annals.
Making his first career start, freshman lefty Logan Salow worked 2.1 innings, allowing three hits and two runs in his first career start, walking one and striking out one. UK turned to sophomore Taylor Martin with one out and the tying run on second base in the third inning, with Martin getting the middle of the order out. Martin worked 2.1 innings, allowing no hits and two runs, walking two and striking out three. Andrew Nelson then came on in relief of Martin, working 1.2 innings, allowing five hits and one run. Chandler Shepherd took over with one out in the seventh, getting out of the jam. Shepherd (5-4) worked 2.2 innings, allowing four hits and one run, with an error leading to the decisive run in the eighth.
Florida (40-20) starter Brett Morales worked 1.1 innings, allowing three hits and three runs, walking two and striking out one. UF turned to Kirby Snead in the second inning in relief, with Snead working 4.1 innings, allowing three hits and two runs, walking two and striking out two. Eric Hanhold (4-3) came on in the sixth inning, working the final 3.1 innings for the win, allowing just two hits and striking out four.
Kentucky will now await NCAA Tournament selections, with the selection show on Monday slated for 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The Wildcats struck first in the bottom of the first inning, as Cousino led off with a four-pitch walk. Kuhn then riffled a double down the leftfield line, scoring Cousino from first base. Reed followed and queued a ball off the bat, with Morales misplaying the ball for an error. Tom then smashed a liner to second base, with the throw to first base ruled as getting Reed for a double play, prompting an extended argument. Thomas then singled to the shortstop, before Storm Wilson struck out to end the threat and keeping UK from a crooked number.
UK got a second run in the bottom of the second inning, as Barrett doubled down the leftfield line, taking third on a wild pitch. After Shelby drew a 3-1 walk and Florida turned to lefty Kirby Snead, Cousino hung a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring Barrett. Kuhn and Reed followed with walks to load the bases for Tom with two outs. Tom smacked a single through the left side, scoring Shelby.
The Gators rallied in the top of the third inning, as Buddy Reed drew a walk to leadoff and Josh Tobias hustled into second with a double. Casey Turgeon then singled to rightfield, scoring Reed. Richie Martin followed with a tailor-made double play ball, with Reida feeding it to Shelby for the force out, but the ball popping out of the hands of Shelby on the transfer, allowing Tobias to score.
Florida took the lead in the top of the fifth inning, as Tobias and Turgeon drew one-out walks, taking a base on a wild pitch. UK then turned to Nelson with two outs, with the count worked to 1-2 before Harrison Bader singled up the middle to score the duo and give UF a 4-3 lead.
Kentucky rallied to regain the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, plating two runs on two hits. Barrett reached first with one out on a misplayed ball by the first baseman, taking second on Shelby’s sacrifice bunt. Cousino then delivered the two-out RBI single through the right side, scoring Barrett and evening up the game at 4-4. UF turned to Hanhold in relief to face Kuhn, who greeted him with a double down the rightfield line, scoring Cousino with the go-ahead run.
Florida immediately answered in the top of the seventh inning, as Martin singled through the right side with one out, then stealing second base. Bader then bounced a single up the middle, scoring Martin from second base and making it 5-5.
The Gators took the lead in the top of the eighth inning, as Peter Alonso reached on a one-out error. After Alonso’s pinch runner was caught stealing for the second out, Ryan Larson and Reed singled. Tobias then singled to rightfield to score Larson and give UF a 6-5 lead.