GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All-America southpaw Corey Littrell fired eight one-run innings and catcher Micheal Thomas belted a three-run homer in the second inning, leading No. 9 Kentucky to a 6-2 win over Florida, its first series win at UF in 14 years and just the fifth in program history, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium.
In a series that dates back to 1953, Kentucky (16-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) had only won four, three-game weekend series in Gainesville, in 1973, 1975, 1993 and 1999. After UK fell 6-1 in the series opener on Friday, UK rebounded to even the series with an 11-5 win on Saturday, before posting the rubber-match win on Sunday.
“It’s a good series win,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Anytime you take two on the road, it’s a good weekend. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you play, it’s a good weekend. It’s especially big to lose the first one and come back and get the next two. Overall, except for that one inning [on Friday], our defense was good all weekend long. We did a nice job of pounding the strike zone and again got some key hits today. Obviously it’s nice to get some good production out of the bottom of the order, so it’s a good weekend for us.”
Littrell (3-0) turned in his fourth quality start and the 18th of his career. The Louisville, Ky., native worked eight innings, scattering 10 singles for one run, not allowing a walk and striking out seven. He shined in the seventh, striking out the side of the top three Florida hitters in the order.
“The seventh inning was huge for me confidence-wise. I was able to get ahead early on every hitter and then I used my curveball as well and then I was able to use my fastball to put them away.”
With the decision, Littrell earned his 18th career win, moving into a tie with Doug Sutton (1986-88) for ninth place all-time in UK career history.
“Corey had kind of a unique performance,” Henderson said. “It was a clean first inning, and then in innings two through six, we would get an out and it seemed like there was always a guy on (base). It was a great, great job by Corey of getting out of jams. Obviously, he got a little bit better tempo and a little bit of a better rhythm with his game in the sixth, and then he was dominant in the seventh inning. He was as good in concentration and stuff in the seventh as we saw all day. I was really proud of him to go out there and get another three outs there in the eighth.”
In Littrell’s last two seasons, the southpaw has made nine starts in series-deciding rubber matches, with UK winning all nine games and the junior posting a 7-0 record and a 1.92 ERA.
“Corey has done a phenomenal job in these situations,” Thomas said about Littrell’s ability to dominate rubber-match games. “For him to be able to come out every weekend and have the series put on his shoulder and him to be able to come out and throw well is huge.”
“It was a big win,” Littrell said. “Coming in with the series tied 1-1, it was my job to go out there and compete for my teammates so we could get the win. Luckily, the bats came early, the offense played good, we got a couple hits on them, played confident and we really showed up today.”
Trevor Gott came on to get the final three outs of the game and seal the series win for the Wildcats, allowing a run on three hits.
“I thought [Corey] Littrell did a nice job making some big pitches when he needed to,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Credit Littrell. He’s a really good pitcher, one of the better pitchers in our league, and he obviously showed that today. We got 10 hits on him over eight innings and [Trevor] Gott is one of the better closers in our league and we had some good at-bats.”
The Wildcats were led by two-hit games from Austin Cousino, A.J. Reed, J.T. Riddle and Matt Reida, as UK pounded out 12 hits, drew three walks and was hit by one pitch. Thomas belted his first homer of the year – a three-run job in the second inning that game UK a lead – with UK also getting hits from Zac Zellers, Jeff Boehm and Kyle Barrett.
During the series in Gainesville, Cousino led the Wildcats with a .538 average (7-for-13), belting a double, homer and four RBI, stealing three bases and getting plunked by a pitch.
Florida (9-11, 1-1 SEC) starter Eric Handhold (0-1) worked 3.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and five runs, walking one and striking out three. Lefty Daniel Gibson replaced him in a two-out jam in the fourth, working a career-high 3.1 innings, not allowing a hit and walking two with three strikeouts. Mike Vinson worked two shutout innings in relief of Gibson.
UK got on the board in the top of the second, as Boehm drew a four-pitch walk with one out and Barrett smacked a single off the glove of Handhold on the mound. Thomas then smashed a no-doubt three-run homer over the stands in leftfield to give UK a 3-0 lead.
“It was huge,” Littrell said about Thomas’ homer. “Nothing better for him to get his first home run and give us the early lead. It took pressure off of my back and I was able to go out there and throw strikes.”
The Wildcats plated a run in the third inning to stretch their lead to 4-0. Reed led off with a single to rightfield, with Kuhn replacing him at first on a fielder’s choice. UK then executed a hit-and-run with Riddle, who singled to leftfield, with Kuhn out at third base trying to motor headfirst into the bag. Boehm then smashed a double off the leftfield wall, allowing Riddle to score from first.
In the fourth inning, UK added a run, as Reida doubled to leadoff, taking third on a well-placed groundout from Cousino. Zellers then singled through the left side with the infield in to score Reida and give UK a 5-0 lead.
The Gators got on the board in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Conor Mitchell singled to lead off and was erased on a 4-6-3 double play. Harrison Bader followed with an infield single that sent Reida deep into the hole. After a Justin Shafer single pushed Bader to third base, Vickash Ramjit singled to leftfield to score Bader.
UK added a run in the eighth, as Barrett drew a walk to leadoff, taking second on Thomas’ sacrifice bunt. Reida then smashed a single through the right side to score Barrett and give UK a 6-1 lead.
Florida got a run in the ninth for the final margin. Cody Dent singled with one out and scored on Justin Shafer’s two-out RBI single up the middle.