Florida's league woes away from home continue

Special to Gatorsports.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 12 Florida's struggles on the SEC road continued Saturday when No. 6 Tennessee rallied for a 5-4 win to capture the series.

The Gators (20-11, 5-6 SEC) fell to 0-5 in the league away from home when their pitching staff had a meltdown in the sixth inning. They are 4-16 on the SEC road since 2019. The Vols, who won Friday's game 6-4, improved to 27-5, 9-2 in the SEC.

"I can't answer that question," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said when asked about the SEC road woes. "I don't know. We just played at South Carolina and this is the fifth road game in the SEC that we've played. We've just found ways not to win ballgames."

Florida took a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning when Sterlin Thompson hit a home run, Jud Fabian singled and Jordan Butler hit a run-scoring double.

Starting pitcher Franco Aleman was in control from the start, only allowing the Vols a leadoff single in the first inning and nothing much until the bottom of the sixth.

"I thought the first five innings was about as good as we've played all year long," O'Sullivan said.

Aleman, who had allowed only a hit, a walk and struck out four in five innings to that point, walked the first two Tennessee batters he faced in the sixth to end his night. Jack Leftwich, a former starter, threw eight consecutive balls to walk the only two batters he faced and give the Vols a score without a hit. 

Trey Van Der Weide (0-1) replaced Leftwich with the bases loaded and induced Drew Gilbert to hit into a double play, which allowed another run to score. Jordan Beck followed with a run-scoring single, Luc Lipcius a RBI double and Connor Pavolony a RBI single to give the Vols a 5-3 lead. All told, UT scored five runs on just three hits.

The Gators challenged in the ninth when Jacob Young doubled and scored on a two-out single by Kirby McMullen to cut the deficit to 5-4. But Thompson ended the game when he struck out.

"We went down looking three times there in the ninth," O'Sullivan said. "We just have to get better and, obviously this is a tough one, but we have to come back tomorrow."

Florida looks to avoid another SEC road sweep when it plays Tennessee, which has won four consecutive games in the series, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network+). The Gators will throw Hunter Barco (4-2, 5.30 ERA) vs. Vols righty Blade Tidwell (4-1, 2.58).