Auburn evens series vs. Florida

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Auburn infielder Edouard Julien runs to third during the Florida Gators home game against the Tigers on Thursday. The Florida Gators won 3-1. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

The SEC baseball race is coming down the stretch, but Kevin O’Sullivan already has one eye on the postseason.

And he didn’t like what he saw Friday night.

Florida starter Jackson Kowar struggled and the bullpen did little to put out any fires as the No. 1 Gators lost 11-5 to Auburn.

Most concerning to O’Sullivan was a poor first inning from Kowar and another shaky performance from part of what is supposed to be America’s best starting rotation.

“It’s been awhile since all three starters have been sharp on the same weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “We have to look at that because you need that to get through regionals.

“Plus, we haven’t been getting off to very good starts. We have to get that cleaned up.”

Kowar allowed seven runs, five of them earned, before leaving the game in the fifth inning. He gave up a three-run homer in the first inning one night after the Gator staff allowed only one run to the Tigers.

A crowd of 4,404 watched the Gators fall to 35-10 and 15-5 in the SEC. The loss was Florida’s first in conference play at home since its first SEC home game of the season.

The 11 runs were the second-most UF has allowed this season and the most Florida’s pitching staff has allowed since UF lost 15-7 at South Carolina in the first SEC series of the year. That game was Kowar’s only loss this season before Friday night.

“They played a great baseball game,” said Florida shortstop Deacon Liput. “Give them the credit.”

Florida trailed from the start as Edouard Julien drilled an opposite-field, three-run homer in the first on a 3-2 pitch.

In the third, Nick Horvath got the first hit for the Gators, a solo homer with two out. On the next pitch, Liput hammered one into the right-center field bullpen to make it 3-2 Auburn.

“It obviously helped us out,” Liput said, “but we ultimately we ended up losing.”

Auburn scored two unearned runs in the fourth and Kowar (7-2) exited in the fifth with two on and one out. Andrew Baker gave up a two-run single to Will Holland to make it 7-2.

The Tigers (31-13, 10-10) came into the night hitting .233 in SEC games after being held to five hits Thursday night. But they banged out 15 hits to even the series and set up Saturday’s rubber game at 2 p.m.

And the Gators play that game with freshman Jack Leftwich (3-1) making his first weekend start.

“He’s earned it,” O’Sullivan said.

Florida made it interesting with two runs in the sixth, one of them scoring on Horvath’s third hit of the night. Austin Langworthy also had three hits, one on a pop-up Auburn misplayed, and made two run-saving plays in left field.

But Florida could get no closer and Auburn tacked on a pair of ninth-inning runs.  

“It’s baseball,” Langworthy said. “Sometimes you get out-hit. Sometimes you get out-pitched. We did both.”