Florida defeats Kentucky in SEC tournament opener

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun

HOOVER, Ala. — After a four-game losing streak to end the regular season, Florida looked to bounce back in the opening round of the SEC Baseball Tournament against Kentucky. 

Six-seeded Florida did just that Tuesday by defeating 11th-seeded Kentucky 4-1 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

The Gators (36-19), ranked No. 13 in the nation, play three-seed Mississippi State (40-13), which is ranked No. 8 nationally, at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when the tourney turns into the double-elimination portion. The first five of the six days of the tourney will be covered by the SEC Network.

Florida hoped to receive a bye into the second round of the tournament, but a sweep this past weekend by No. 1 Arkansas forced the Gators into a battle with the Wildcats, a team that UF won two of three from on the road May 6-8. 

First pitch in Hoover may have been unusually early (9:30 a.m. CT), but Florida’s bats didn't come out sleepy. On the first pitch of the game, Jacob Young (fourth) blasted it over the left field wall to give the Gators an early lead. 

Florida outfielder Jacob Young charges in to catch a short fly ball into left field Tuesday in the 4-1 win against Kentucky during the SEC Tournament in the Hoover Met in Hoover, Alabama.

Right fielder Sterlin Thompson extended the lead to 2-0 with a bases-loaded single later in the inning, and UF spent the rest of the game protecting its lead. 

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan awarded right-hander Tommy Mace (6-1) the start, despite hurling over 100 pitches last Thursday against the Razorbacks. 

The junior answered the call and delivered in the single-elimination game and threw five innings. His lone blemish occurred in the top of the fifth, when a Kentucky (29-23) double made it 2-1. Mace allowed seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Two Florida insurance runs on a Cory Acton RBI single and run-scoring groundout by Mac Guscette in the bottom half of the frame put it at 4-1, a lead it maintained the rest of the way. 

Junior reliever Jack Leftwich bagged his fifth save of the season and escaped a jam in the top of the ninth. The Wildcats put runners on second and third with one out, but the righty captured a strikeout and groundout. 

“I thought Tommy pitched well today in some difficult spots,” O’Sullivan said. “Jack made some pitches like he usually does, and offensively, we were pretty fortunate to score four runs on five hits.

"We made some big pitches when we needed to." 

Florida ace Tommy Mace helped the Gators defeat Kentucky 4-1 on Tuesday during the SEC Tournament in the Hoover Met in Hoover, Alabama.

Wednesday

What: Second round of SEC Baseball Tournament

Who: Florida (36-19) vs. Mississippi State (40-13)

When: 10:30 a.m. ET

Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM