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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Trio of Gator homers not enough to overcome Vols in Knoxville

It took under two-and-a-half hours for No. 6 Tennessee to knock off No. 12 Florida in a pivotal series opener Friday night in Knoxville

<p>First baseman Kendrick Calilao sprints out of the batters box against Jacksonville March 14. </p>

First baseman Kendrick Calilao sprints out of the batters box against Jacksonville March 14.

Nearly 1,500 fans rose from their seats during the seventh-inning stretch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium and watched Florida right-hander Christian Scott take the hill with a tie game. 

Tennessee designated hitter Liam Spence poked a leadoff double and advanced to third on a bunt single. Spence — who extended his hit streak to 12 games and boasts a league-best .418 batting average — scored the game-winning run on third baseman Jake Rucker’s sacrifice fly.

An inning later, Scott surrendered a solo shot as Vols reliever Sean Hunley retired six straight Gators to earn his fourth save and secure a 6-4 series-opening victory Friday night in Knoxville.

“He had taken ownership of that game,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “When we go into a home game with six outs left and the game’s tied, I like our chances.”

Florida right-hander Tommy Mace made his seventh start and didn’t give up a hit until Tennessee shortstop Logan Steenstra doubled off the right-field wall. The next at-bat, Steenstra scored the first run of the night on a Spence single up the middle.

Florida responded with back-to-back homers to start the fourth inning; catcher Nathan Hickey led off with a solo shot to right-center before third baseman Kriby McMullen bombed an 0-2 over the left-field wall to take a 2-1 lead.

But the Volunteers hit a pair of singles off Mace before left fielder Evan Russell drove a bases-clearing double into the right-center gap to re-take the lead. An inning later, Vols third baseman Jake Rucker doubled and scored on cleanup hitter Drew Gilbert’s two-out single up the middle.

Down 4-2 through six frames, Florida center fielder Jud Fabian led off the seventh inning with an opposite-field solo shot — his team-high 11th home run this season  — off Tennessee right-hander Chad Dallas. 

Florida first baseman Jordan Butler reached base on a fielding error and designated hitter Kris Armstrong fought off a first-pitch curveball through the right side to put a runner in scoring position. On an 0-2 count, second baseman Colby Halter tied the game on a single through the left side. 

The run counted as unearned for Dallas, who struck out the next batter before a double play ended his seven-frame outing. The 5-foot-11-inch junior matched a season-high 11 strikeouts and improved to 5-0.

“With the presence and the type of strikes he was throwing, you felt good about the deal,” Vitello said. “As you look back now at the complete body of work, it was a complete outing.”

The Gators will look to bounce back Saturday and pick up their first SEC road win. First pitch will fly at 7 p.m. and air on the SEC Network.

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Griffin Foll

Griffin Foll is a sophomore at UF studying journalism sports and media. He is one of The Alligator's women’s basketball beat writers. Griffin is also a UF softball beat reporter for and contributes weekly articles for ESPN Gainesville.

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