(Andy Hutchins/SB Nation)
Somehow, Florida entered Thursday night's clash with Kentucky as the team that was reeling a little less spectacularly: the Gators, 10-10 over their last 20 games, were still looking better than the Kentucky squad that lost three of four last week, and dropped a three-game series to middling Vanderbilt. And then the Gators got a much-needed 5-3 win with a little offense and some stellar bullpen work.
Preston Tucker swatted a homer — his 12th, tying Mike Zunino for the team lead — and had two RBI in Florida's victory, and a three-run fourth inning gave the Gators a lead that enabled the Florida bullpen to shut the door after Hudson Randall and allow the Gators' junior ace to get the win.
Randall cruised for much of his night, retiring eight straight batters in the middle innings and allowing just a run, four hits, and a walk before the seventh inning, when Michael Williams' two-out, two-run homer brought Kentucky to within a run at 4-3. That chased Randall and brought out Steven Rodriguez, who continued his tear through SEC play by working 2.1 scoreless innings and striking out three, including two with two men on in the eighth, to get his first save of the year.
Tucker was the only Gator to collect multiple hits on the night, going 2-for-4, but every Florida starter reached base, and only Zunino, who went 0-for-3 with a walk, failed to do so by way of a hit. Brian Johnson and Justin Shafer each had an RBI, Johnson's in the fourth and Shafer's in the top of the ninth as insurance, and a Zac Zellers error allowed Nolan Fontana to score in the fourth.
Florida meets Kentucky again at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The Gators will send Karsten Whitson to the mound for the second game of their three-game set in Lexington, and if you somehow have CSS, that's the channel it will be on.