A day after clinching at least a share of the SEC regular-season baseball title, No. 1 Florida was done in by a crafty lefty starter Sunday against Georgia.
Junior lefty Kevin Smith allowed just one run on three hits in seven breezy innings, allowing the Bulldogs to salvage the final game of the three-game series with a 4-1 win over Florida (41-12, 20-7 SEC) before 4,135 at McKethan Stadium.
Freshman righty Jack Leftwich (4-3) took the loss for Florida and made one key mistake. After allowing back-to-back singles with two outs in the third inning, Leftwich hung a 1-0 breaking ball over the plate to Georgia’s best hitter, left fielder Keegan McGovern, who deposited the pitch over the scoreboard in right field. McGovern’s team-leading 14th home run of the season put the Bulldogs up 3-1, giving Georgia a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Leftwich allowed four runs on nine hits in 4.2 innings, walking one and striking out five. Of his 83 pitches, 54 were for strikes.
“It’s a good lesson for Jack that, obviously, you just want to avoid a situation where your best hitter comes to the plate with a couple of runners on,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Certainly there’s only one guy in the lineup you don’t want to hurt you and beat you, and that was McGovern.”
The Bulldogs (35-16, 16-11 SEC) tacked on a run in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by center fielder C.J. Smith to go up 4-1. Florida scored its lone run in the second inning on an RBI groundout by second baseman Blake Reese.
Smith (7-1), meanwhile, kept Florida off-balance, striking out six while recording nine ground outs with his power sinker.
“We were rolling over a lot of breaking balls to the left side of the infield, maybe eight or nine outs” O’Sullivan said. “His fastball tailed the other way .. it seemed like he didn’t throw many balls in the middle of the plate.”
Florida’s bullpen was the bright spot of the day, with sophomore lefty Andrew Baker pitching two scoreless innings and freshman lefty Jordan Butler working out of a bases loaded jam in the seventh by getting a fly out to end the inning.
“The bullpen did a really nice job,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought Baker came in and did a really nice job and obviously Butler came in and made a big pitch for us.”
Baker had allowed just one earned run over his last 5.2 innings. Last season, Baker finished the year with 8.06 ERA. This year, Baker’s ERA stands at 2.36. Baker said his biggest change this season has been in his attitude.
“Last year I used to get frustrated when anything happened differently, an umpire calling a bad pitch or someone getting a hit,” Baker said. “I think really just my attitude changing and just realized as a pitcher, people are going to hit you. You just have to keep throwing, keep throwing strikes.”
The loss on Mother’s Day somewhat spoiled Senior Day for center fielder Nick Horvath and catcher JJ Schwarz, who were honored before the game. Schwarz made his 260th career start in UF’s regular-season home finale, passing Preston Tucker for the most starts by a UF player in school history.
“Both of them have had some great memories and both were instrumental in our run last year to a national championship,” O’Sullivan said.
EXTRA BASES: With Arkansas’ 6-3 win over Texas A&M on Sunday, the Gators are three games ahead of the Razorbacks with three games to play. Florida can wrap up an outright SEC title with a win Thursday when it starts a three-game series at Mississippi State. Florida has won all nine of its SEC series this season. “I would expect us to keep our edge,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re an older group. We’ve done it all year long.” The Gators won’t return home until hosting regionals June 1. O’Sullivan said the Gators are contemplating requesting the afternoon game for the first day on Friday in order to avoid potential rain delays. … Florida also extended its streak of regular-season series wins to 19 dating back to last season.