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Florida baseball uses long ball to sink Georgia, win SEC championship

The Gators erased their third deficit in as many games to clinch at least a share of the conference crown.

2017 Division I Men's College World Series - Florida v LSU - Game 2 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

On Saturday, for the third time in as many games, the No. 1 Florida Gators faced a deficit at McKethan Stadium.

On Saturday, for the third time in as many games, the Gators made that deficit a memory — and, as a result, Florida is the SEC’s champion for the second time in as many years.

Florida slugged four homers, including a grand slam by Blake Reese, in rallying back from a 1-0 hole created in the second inning for a 9-3 win over Georgia that secured at least a share of the Gators’ second consecutive SEC regular-season crown and their 19th consecutive series win in conference play.

Florida starter Jackson Kowar recovered from a shaky start — he allowed two two-out hits in the first, then a run in the second — to post a seven-inning, nine-strikeout line, and the Gators got homers from Jonathan India, Nelson Maldonado, JJ Schwarz, and Reese in building what swelled to a 9-1 lead at one stage. And while freshman Tommy Mace allowed the Bulldogs to rally for a pair of runs in the eighth inning, he worked a quiet ninth to put the finishing touches on Florida’s win.

The victory was slightly less dramatic than the Gators’ previous two triumphs this week. Florida roared back from 6-0 and 8-2 deficits against USF to secure an 11-8 win on Tuesday, then rallied back from a 5-3 hole — after an error leading to a grand slam and a passed ball that generated a go-ahead run in the ninth inning — for a walk-off 7-6 win over Georgia on Friday.

But the Saturday win was the most momentous, as it pushes Florida to the 20-win mark in SEC play and all but guarantees the Gators sole ownership of the 2018 conference crown. The only team that can share the SEC’s regular-season title with the Gators is Arkansas — and for the Razorbacks to do that, they would need to win out and have Florida lose its remaining four games.

That doesn’t seem likely for the defending national champions, who will win their first outright SEC title since 2014 if that unlikely string of results doesn’t come to pass, and whose dominant play one year removed from the first national championship in school history has made these Gators the favorite to win it all again.