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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Kendrick Calilao saves Gators in final hour

No. 10 Florida snatched victory from jaws of defeat with four-run ninth inning

Florida outfielder Kendrick Calilao watches a ball he hit against Jacksonville on March 14. Calilao tied Friday's game in the eighth inning before he struck the winning home run in the ninth.
Florida outfielder Kendrick Calilao watches a ball he hit against Jacksonville on March 14. Calilao tied Friday's game in the eighth inning before he struck the winning home run in the ninth.

Florida baseball sat one strike away from a momentum-destroying series loss.

Three pitches later, the Florida dugout mobbed right fielder Kendrick Calilao at the plate after the sophomore fired a moonshot into the night sky and over the right-field fence for a three-run home run.

The No. 10 Gators went from down one run to up three runs in three pitches, and they left Kentucky Proud Park Friday night with a series-saving 8-5 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats..

The Wildcats, with eyes set on a series victory, broke open the scoring in the second inning. Back-to-back singles put runners on first and second before both Kentucky baserunners attempted to steal an extra base. Florida catcher Nathan Hickey fired down to third, but the throw was wild as third baseman Kirby McMullen doveto keep the ball from retreating into the outfield.

Two batters later, Kentucky center fielder Cam Hill singled through to right field to bring both players home and jump out to an early 2-0 lead.

Rain began to fall in the top of the third inning, first timidly, then torrentially. Kentucky starter Sean Harney kept pausing and asking to wait for the rain to let up, which led to a fluctuating pace of play frequented by stoppages.

After one such break, Florida center fielder Jud Fabian belted a baseball through the rain drops and into the grass over right-center field to tie the game at two runs apiece. The blast was Fabian’s 17th home run of the season.

Fabian didn’t finish there, either. Two innings later, with one out in the fifth, Harney left a curveball hanging, and Fabian punished him for it. A high moonball into the right-field bullpen became Fabian’s 18th home run of the season and gave the Gators their first lead of the night, 3-2.

Starting Florida pitcher Tommy Mace began the night with stable control. He didn’t have his best stuff, as evidenced by the two-run second inning plagued by a trio of singles. Before the fifth inning, however, the junior surrendered just two other hits against a quartet of strikeouts.

Mace’s command evaporated in the fifth inning. Hill led off with a single right back at Mace and into centerfield. The Wildcat outfielder stole second base during the next at-bat before right fielder Austin Schultz roped a ground ball down to right field, and Hill legged it out to tie the game again at three runs each.

A walk later, Kentucky right fielder John Rhodes singled to right field to bring home Schultz. Mace would later stomp back to the dugout as the Gators now trailed again, 4-3.

As the rain returned two innings later, Mace struck Hill in the foot with a pitch before a wild pickoff attempt allowed Hill to sneak to third. Mace retaliated with a mammoth strikeout before a deep fly ball to center ended the inning without any further damage done. 

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Mace’s night ended there after 117 pitches and seven total innings. He left with nine strikeouts, eight hits and four earned runs.

Calilao, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter to take the spot of right fielder Sterlin Thompson, singled to right field in the eighth inning and tied the game when pinch runner Jordan Carrion raced all the way home.

In the bottom of the inning, though, Hill haunted Florida again. With the bases loaded after a single, an error and a hit batter, the center fielder grounded into a fielder’s choice for his third RBI of the night. Hill either brought home or scored himself four of Kentucky’s five runs, and the Wildcats led again with one inning to play.

A pinch hitter saved the day again in the top of the ninth. Cory Acton subbed in for Carrion and took a 1-2 pitch the crowd thought should have ended the night’s entertainment. As boos showered down, Acton rocketed a pitch back up the middle to reel in the tying run. 

Enter Calilao.

Junior right-hander Jack Leftwich came in for the ninth inning and never let anyone past second base to cement the final score and tie the series.

Saturday’s tiebreaker begins at 2 p.m. in Kentucky and will broadcast on SECN+.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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