As soon as Alex Faedo’s pitch came off the bat of Kentucky’s Tristian Pompey, Florida right fielder Nelson Maldonado ran backwards down the right field line.
The Gators were up 3-0 after three innings, but the Wildcats were threatening to score with two outs and the bases loaded.
But as it kept sailing overhead, Maldonado’s run turned into a jog, and then into a complete stop. All he could do was watch as the ball flew over the outfield wall for a grand slam, taking UF’s lead with it.
The Gators (38-15, 19-9) couldn’t gain back any momentum, giving up hit after hit in No. 5 Florida’s 12-4 loss to No. 6 Kentucky on Friday night at McKethan Stadium. UF and UK are currently in a three-way tie with LSU for the SEC regular-season title.
“They played really good tonight,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I don't want to take anything away from them.”
Things were going the Gators’ way early in front of a crowd of 3,693. Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the second inning and Faedo was keeping the Wildcats’ offense at bay.
Kentucky’s pitcher Sean Hjelle struggled, walking five batters in two innings on top of two hits.
Then, Pompey’s grand slam happened, and the game completely changed for both teams.
Florida’s offense came to a standstill, and Kentucky couldn’t stop hitting the ball, collecting 13 base knocks off of Faedo.
Despite looking good in the first three innings, Florida’s Friday ace just didn’t have it on Thursday night.
“We knew they were a good-hitting team,” Faedo said. “They battled in the fourth inning with two outs and kind of (broke) the game open from there.”
It didn’t matter who Florida brought in after, as Kentucky just picked up right where it left off, recording seven hits against the four relievers UF brought in.
The Wildcats finished the game with 12 runs off 20 hits and scored at least one run from the fourth to the eighth inning.
“They did hit the ball really well, but we’ve got games like that as well,” catcher JJ Schwarz said. “Tomorrow’s a different day, so we’ll see.”
The Gators had their chances to get back in the game, but failed to capitalize.
A Jonathan India single put runners on third and first in the bottom of the fifth, but first baseman Christian Hicks ended the inning by grounding out to first.
Florida also had bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth with two outs after Zach Thompson, who replaced Hjelle that inning, walked Schwarz. Right fielder Nelson Maldonado, however, hit into a fielder’s choice, and the Wildcats escaped the inning unscathed.
Even with the lack of runs, UF’s offense did manage eight hits. Schwarz, who was 2-for-3 with two walks, and India, who was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a stolen base, led Florida’s offense and provided consistency throughout the game.
With the first contest of the series behind them, the Gators will now turn to Brady Singer on Friday night to limit a Kentucky offense that, coming into the series, leads the SEC in hitting with a .322 batting average.
But as Florida’s coaches and players will point out, Friday night is a different game.
“We just got beat,” O’Sullivan said. “Simple as that. We've got to flush it and come back tomorrow and play a little bit better.”
Contact Jake Dreilinger at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter on @DreilingerJake.
UF pitcher Alex Faedo pitches during Florida's 1-0 win against LSU on March 24, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.