JM Soracchi, Correspondent
Nelson Maldonado hit a go-ahead, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to help the Florida baseball team erase an early seven-run deficit and take a crucial 10-9 win over Tennessee on Friday night at McKethan Stadium.
It was one of two home runs for Maldonado on the evening during the last regular season home series of his Gators career.
The senior designated hitter went 3 for 5 while also scoring three times and driving in three runs, while also setting a career high for home runs in a season with 10.
“This is a huge win for our team,” Maldonado said. “It’s a much needed win and I’m proud of these guys for getting on and attacking the zone.”
The comeback was also Florida’s largest since erasing an 8-0 deficit against Florida Gulf Coast on March 24, 2010.
The Gators (30-21, 10-15 SEC) still had to work for the win in the top of the ninth when the Volunteers’ Jake Rucker singled to put the tying run on the basepaths with one out. After a flyout to left field, Nolan Crisp then walked pinch hitter Christian Scott to put a second runner on.
But Crisp, a true freshman, got Ricky Martinez to line out to right field to give Florida a thrilling victory.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan pointed to the seven-run gap as the turning point in the contest.
“We got together in the bottom of the fourth, we were down 9-2 … Basically the message was, ‘No one’s going to feel sorry for us.’
“We’ve had such a long tradition here and a long history of playing the game the right way. And we were certainly not going to put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves.”
Gators junior reliever Kirby McMullen got thrown into a tough spot, with Tennessee (33-17, 10-15) leading 9-2 in the top of the fourth and one out. But the righty put up 3.2 scoreless innings and handed the ball off to Crisp with Florida down just 9-8 after scratching back runs in the fourth and fifth innings, then putting up a four-spot in the seventh.
“Any time I come into the game, I’m just trying to throw strikes and get some outs,” McMullen said. “I knew being down 9-2, that’s definitely where I needed to keep the game where it was at.”
Crisp threw two innings, giving up no runs, to improve to 4-2.
Gators sophomore shortstop Brady McConnell went 3 for 5 with two runs and an RBI, while Wil Dalton had two hits and three RBIs, and Jacob Young had two hits and two runs driven in.
Florida plays at 3 p.m. Saturday against the Volunteers in the second of the teams’ three-game series. The Gators are scheduled to throw Jack Leftwich (4-5, 7.02 ERA) while the Vols are expected to counter with lefty Garrett Crochet (3-3, 3.58 ERA).
Who: Tennessee vs. Florida
When: 3 p.m.
Where: McKethan Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Pitching matchup: UT lefty Garrett Crochet (3-3, 3.58 ERA) vs. UF righty Jack Leftwich (4-5, 7.02)
Sunday: 1 p.m.