Georgia leads from start to salvage final game of series vs. Florida

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida shortstop Josh Rivera makes a throw to first base Sunday against Georgia at Florida Ballpark.

For the first time in the brief history of Florida Ballpark, No. 9-ranked Florida honored the senior class Sunday, but the joy dwindled from there as Georgia downed the Gators, 6-1, to avoid the sweep in UF’s regular-season home finale. 

“Bottom line is we got beat today,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I don’t think we played poorly, we just fell behind early and couldn’t come up with a big two-out hit.” 

After managing just a pair of runs in Saturday’s bout, Georgia, which lost the series to UF after 4-3 and 9-2 setbacks to start the weekend, took a 3-0 lead from the jump when Garrett Blaylock homered to center field. 

Jud Fabian, who homered twice Saturday to give him a team-high 20 on the season, grounded into a double play to end UF’s hitless first inning, and the Dawgs would add another home run in the second inning with Chaney Rogers’ solo shot to left. 

The bottom of the second inning saw the Gators (35-16,17-10 SEC) get on the scoreboard as Sterlin Thompson’s RBI single scored Kendrick Calilao, trimming the deficit to 4-1. Thompson proceeded to steal second but Cory Acton would ground out to second for the final out of the inning. 

No guarantee of anything, the Gators kept plucking away at the plate with the sweep of the Bulldogs (29-20,12-15) on the line. 

Florida had another chance to cut into the deficit in the third inning when it had runners on the corners with two outs, but couldn’t get runs across the plate.

And with the bases loaded and two outs, Kirby McMullen had a chance to be the hero to give the Gators their first lead of the afternoon, but he groundout to the shortstop to end the fifth inning and keep UGA’s 4-1 lead intact. 

“We definitely tried to get out there and get the sweep,” McMullen said. “We’ll definitely be back in Florida Ballpark to host a regional, so we’ve got something to look forward to.”

Franco Aleman’s (1-3) day on the mound ended after allowing seven hits in six innings. Trey Van Der Weide entered at the top of the seventh with the Gators looking to rally, but he made an error in a critical juncture that allowed another run to come across for Georgia. Van Der Weide made way for Jack Leftwich after having thrown just seven pitches. Georgia then made it 6-1 when Cole Tate singled to with runners on second and third. 

Florida once again had runners in scoring position with two outs in the seventh, but Jordan Butler, who was called on to pinch-hit, hit a pop fly that Randon Jernigan fielded with ease to end the inning. The Gators’ afternoon concluded having left 12 runners on base. 

“It seemed like we needed that big hit with two outs, and we never got it,” McMullen said. “That’s just the way baseball goes sometimes.”

Nathan Hickey went 0-for-4 to continue his rough stretch, though it appeared as if the wind prevented Hickey from homering not once but twice Sunday. The Jacksonville native is in the midst of a 4-for-39 stretch at the plate as the regular season wanes. 

Without a mid-week game on the schedule, Florida will look to bounce back from Sunday’s loss when it travels to No. 1-ranked Arkansas to conclude the regular season with a three-game series in Fayetteville. 

“We’ve got to turn the page right now. The series is over, so we’ve got to plan for Arkansas,” McMullen said, “and plan on having a good series against them.”

Up next

Who: No. 9 Florida at No. 1 Arkansas

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM