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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida evens series against Kentucky in dominant fashion

Four Gators turned in multi-hit performances in the victory

Gators baseball left-handed pitcher Cade Fisher throws the ball in Florida's 9-5 loss to St. John's University on Friday, February 16, 2024.
Gators baseball left-handed pitcher Cade Fisher throws the ball in Florida's 9-5 loss to St. John's University on Friday, February 16, 2024.

It could have been difficult for Florida to bounce back from a game where it gave up a two-run lead in the ninth inning of a game and claim a loss in extra frames to No. 3 Kentucky Friday.

But the Gators needed to come out in Game 2 of the series with a sense of urgency as the season began to come down the stretch and NCAA Tournament seedings on the line.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Liam Peterson was up for the task. It’s been an up-and-down year for Peterson, who entered the matchup with a 1-4 record and a 6.54 ERA.

However, the freshman came up huge for UF, allowing five hits for just one earned run while striking out six Wildcat batters in a career-high 101-pitch outing.

“Today I thought his breaking ball was as good as it looked all year long,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We should be fully rested for tomorrow with Jac on the mound on senior day so there’s a lot to play for. We have a chance to win the series.” 

Florida (26-24, 11-15 SEC) dismantled No. 3 Kentucky (36-11, 19-7 SEC) 10-1 at Condron Ballpark in Gainesville Saturday.

The bats were hot in the series opener for Florida after plating 11 runs in the extra-inning battle. UF carried much of the same theme into the early innings of Saturday’s matchup to secure a 3-0 lead after the third frame.

Freshman outfielder Hayden Yost was placed into the starting lineup amidst midseason roster moves made by O’Sullivan. Yost answered in impressive fashion with consistent play against quality SEC opponents.

The freshman raised his batting average to .270 with a 2-5 performance and kickstarted the Gators’ offense in the bottom of the second with a double to the left-center field gap scoring sophomore catcher Brody Donay and awarding Florida a 1-0 edge.

It was far from sophomore second baseman Cade Kurland’s best performance Friday night after going 0-6 at the plate. But Kurland wasted no time making a positive impact in Game 2 with a lead-off home run in the second inning.

Junior Jac Caglianone extended his hit-streak to 29 games in the following at bat with a double down the right-field line and later scored on a RBI base hit through the right side of the infield from sophomore shortstop Colby Shelton to extend UF’s lead to 3-0.

Senior third baseman Dale Thomas has been re-entered into Florida’s starting lineup this series, and he has not disappointed. 

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After spending the past several games on the bench with a batting average of just over .200 in 29 games started, Thomas has come up huge in what will be his final home series of his collegiate career.

Thomas put together an impressive 2-3 performance Saturday and is now 5-7 for the series. He crushed a double off the wall in left-center field in the fourth inning to give the Gators a 4-0 advantage.

“It’s baseball, it’s one of the hardest games in the world,” Thomas said. “But, we just gotta keep sticking together, keep figuring out ways to push each other and pick each other up.”

Kentucky plated its first run of the game in the fifth inning on a slow dribbler to the left side of the infield, and Peterson failed to cleanly make the play allowing UK junior outfielder Ryan Waldshmidt to score from third base.

Though, giving up a run wasn’t the only damage done to Florida in the top half of the frame.

Junior outfielder Ty Evans dove into the wall on the right side of foul territory in an attempt to make a highlight-reel catch. Evans couldn’t make the play, and O’Sullivan stated that Evans’ season has likely come to an end with a broken wrist.

“Unfortunately, I think there’s risk it’s broken,” O’Sullivan said. “So, it’s gonna take some time. I didn’t know the extent of it when we ran out there but you could tell he was in pain so it’s obviously really unfortunate.”

Shelton responded by working a walk to open the bottom of the fifth, setting up Heyman’s second home run of the game and ninth of the season to give Florida two insurance runs midway through the matchup.

Peterson continued his stellar performance through the sixth inning before junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Slater entered the game in relief of the freshman.

“I think a lot of good plays were made behind me,” Peterson said. “Throughout the whole game there were a lot of good plays made for me so kind of hats off to them [the defense]. They really helped me out there pitch-count wise.”

Slater threw three complete innings with zero hits, zero runs and zero base-on-balls allowing Peterson to claim the win.

The Gators tacked three more runs on the board in the eighth and took total control of the game facilitated by Kurland who ripped a two-RBI double down the left-field line scoring Thomas and Shelnut. Their efforts gave UF a 9-1 lead into the ninth before securing the victory.

Next, Florida will host No. 3 Kentucky in a rubber match Sunday. First pitch will be at 12 p.m. at Condron Ballpark.

Contact Max Tucker at Follow him on X @Max_Tuckr1.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time. Max will be covering the Gators Golf teams this Fall for The Alligator.

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