It was an uneven weekend for Florida's teams on their respective diamonds. Florida's top-10 baseball team lost its first home series of the season, while the Gators' No. 1 softball team rolled to a sweep of Texas A&M — and one of the best records in school history.
Florida loses series to Kentucky, salvages Sunday
The word of choice for a series loss with a Sunday victory is "salvage," we saw again over the weekend. It was appropriate for Florida, as the Gators played poorly in almost all of their Friday and Saturday losses to unranked Kentucky, then woke up and thumped the Wildcats on Sunday.
Friday's loss was the latest installment in the ongoing series Logan Shore Pitches Well At Home But Still Loses On Friday. Shore tossed a quality start, his sixth on the year and fourth in his last five starts. But the three runs he gave up over 7.1 innings were more than enough for Kentucky, which scattered five hits and five walks, allowing just a single extra-base hit, a double to Richie Martin in the Gators' second at-bat, all night.
And Saturday's start was even worse: Florida gave up four runs in the top of the second, as Dane Dunning melted down, allowing, in order: A runner reaching on a wild pitch after a strikeout; a hit by pitch to put two men on; a hit by pitch to load the bases; a hit by pitch to score the game's first run; a wild pitch to score another run and move runners to second and third; a pop-up to short; a two-run double; and a four-pitch walk.
Dunning was mercifully lifted after that walk, and Aaron Rhodes finished the inning without further incident, but Dunning's excruciating inning — four earned runs on one hit, one walk, and one strikeout is impressively bad — put the Gators behind for good on the night. Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the second to cut the Wildcats' lead in half, then all but watched as UK padded it, taking a 7-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth.
Yet there was still life in those Gators, as that's when the Florida salvage operation began. Josh Tobias led off with a single, and Harrison Bader worked to a full count before flying out and forcing Kentucky to lift starter Dustin Beggs, who exited having allowed just two runs on six hits in 8.1 innings. But a Peter Alonso double scored Tobias, and brought up JJ Schwarz in a situation where one swing could halve Kentucky's lead. He would ground out instead.
And then the salvage operation shifted into high gear. Florida would tally three more singles and a walk before its final out, and eventually cut the lead to 7-6, with the winning run on second — but an ill-fated bunt attempt from Martin led to pinch runner Taylor Lane getting tagged out before even reaching the batter's box.
Still, the hitting that had deserted Florida for its first 51 outs of the weekend was clearly back for the final 27. The Gators would trail again on Sunday, going down 1-0 in the top of the first, but pounced on Kentucky starter Andrew Nelson from there, tagging him for five runs in 3.2 innings. Florida built a 9-1 lead by the top of the seventh with four multi-run innings — and without a home run, either. The Gators pounded out 16 hits in their 10-1 Sunday win, with every starter getting at least one, and no player recording more than Dalton Guthrie's three RBI.
Over those last 27 outs (the ninth on Saturday and eight innings at the plate on Sunday), Florida went 21-for-43 with three walks, and scored 14 runs; over the first 51, Florida had been 10-for-56 with seven walks, and scored two runs.
What's more, Florida may well have found its Sunday starter. Freshman Alex Faedo recorded his second straight win in a home Sunday start, allowing one earned run while matching his career high of 5.1 innings and solving the Kentucky bats that had roughed up Shore and Dunning. Faedo's young arm and use as a reliever earlier this year probably means he won't be asked to deliver quality starts when he does get starts, but if he can go five innings and give up a single run — as he's now done in two of his three Sunday starts — before turning the game over to Florida's bullpen, he'll have done his job.
Florida's two losses knocked the Gators out of a three-way tie with Missouri and Vanderbilt in the SEC East, with Vanderbilt's sweep of the Tigers putting the Commodores firmly in control of the division, and Florida two games back. But the Gators might well be able to sweep Georgia, the East's worst team, this weekend — and with Vandy traveling to see the same Kentucky outfit that just handed the Gators a series loss, the East might well tighten back up.
Softball sweeps Texas A&M with three comebacks
Deficits, however, do not seem to matter as much to Florida's softball team. The Gators trailed in all three contests against Texas A&M over the weekend — and won each game by at least four runs.
Friday's series opener was the one that Florida started with the lead, taking it in the bottom of the first, but a two-run homer by Tori Vidales put the Gators in a hole heading to the bottom of the fourth. No biggie: Florida got three runs of its own in the frame, and would go on to a 7-3 victory.
Saturday's comeback was the most dramatic one. On Senior Day, A&M hammered Florida's underclassmen pitchers, freshman Aleshia Ocasio and sophomore Delanie Gourley, for five runs through the first four innings. But Florida roared back in the bottom of the fourth, with a seven-run inning that began with a two-run shot by Lauren Haeger and swung on a Taylore Fuller grand slam that gave Florida the lead for good. The Gators went on to win by a 9-5 count, and got to 46-4 on the season, the program's third-best mark through 50 games in school history.
The Sunday finale was anticlimactic, by comparison. Another Vidales homer gave A&M a 1-0 lead after one inning, but Florida methodically pounded A&M for nine runs on 12 hits over the next five innings, and the game was over by run rule after five full innings. The solo homer was the only hit Haeger allowed in her second win of the weekend and 23rd of the year, and actually raised her ERA — from 1.25 to 1.26. Haeger also still trails James Madison freshman Megan Good for the national lead in wins without a loss on the season, but only by a single win.