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Monday, April 22, 2024

Florida bats break out against Kentucky in series opener

The Gators clinched the SEC East division with the victory

Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford hits the ball in the Gators' 10-4 win over the Miami Hurricanes March 3, 2023.
Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford hits the ball in the Gators' 10-4 win over the Miami Hurricanes March 3, 2023.

A worried feeling of deja vu overwhelmed the six-foot-four-inch frame of Kentucky freshman starting pitcher Travis Smith.

It was the top of the sixth inning and the right-hander allowed a pair of leadoff baserunners. Florida freshman second baseman Cade Kurland reached base and was quickly followed by Gators junior outfielder Wyatt Langford. The junior drove Kurland home with a double. 

Langford scored Kurland in identical fashion in the first inning, and this time, Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione tried to minimize the damage and took out his right-handed starter. It was one of three pitching changes Mingione made during the sixth inning as he cycled through his bullpen.

UF blew the game apart and scored five runs in the sixth en route to an offense-packed victory. 

The No. 4 Florida Gators (41-12, 19-9 SEC) defeated the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats (35-16, 15-13 SEC) 10-3 Thursday at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Florida’s offense was headlined by Langford and Kurland who earned three hits and runs each. 

“We did a real nice job,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They’re really tough to beat at home.”

The Gators clinched the Southeastern Conference East division with the victory and a loss by Vanderbilt to Arkansas.

Kurland opened the score in the first inning. The freshman earned a walk and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Kurland completed his trip around the bases when Langford hit an opposite field run batted in double.

Florida two-way sophomore Jac Caglianone singled up the middle and scored Langford. It was the second and final run UF scored for five innings.

Kentucky evened the score at two runs apiece in the fourth inning when Wildcats freshman right fielder James McCoy drove in senior third baseman Jase Felker on a sacrifice fly after the senior hit a double.

The Wildcats scored in the previous inning when Kentucky sophomore second baseman Émilien Pitre knocked an RBI single and put the Wildcats on the board. 

Florida’s starting pitcher, junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep, surrendered three runners on a hit-by-pitch and two walks. The starter was one out away from getting out of a bases-loaded jam when Pitre’s single occurred. 

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Waldrep got out of the inning but surrendered one more run in his sixth and final inning off a solo shot by Wildcats senior shortstop Grant Smith. The Gators junior finished his day with six hits, two earned runs and six strikeouts. 

“Hurston pitched really good,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “If he can get three runs or less with six innings, you'll take it.”

UF added some cushion to its already-sizable lead with three runs in the seventh inning. Gators junior shortstop Josh Rivera earned a sacrifice RBI groundout and senior catcher BT Riopelle followed with a one-out single that scored two runners.

Florida led 10-3 but its lead looked at risk when Wildcats senior designated hitter Chase Stanke hit a line drive to left field with one out and two runners on base. 

The ball looked promising off the aluminum bat of the senior but in came Langford.

The junior outfielder strided forward, locked his eyes on the ball and laid out for the catch. The lead-runner was forced to retreat back to second after initially anticipating a hit and Langford, while still lying on the ground, tossed the ball into second base for a double play to end the inning.

The defensive highlight served as a microcosm of the one-sided show that took place in Lexington. 

“There are some things that we obviously need to clean up like everyone does,” O’Sullivan said. “All-in-all, it's a road win. This time of the year, we're playing for something. You've gotta be pleased with that.”

Florida finished its night with a 10-3 victory finalized by three shutout innings from redshirt sophomore reliever Ryan Slater. The series will resume at 6:30 p.m. Friday and will stream on SEC Network+. 

Contact Luke Adragna at ladragna@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.

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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.


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