By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Second-ranked Florida combined some early run magic with the standout pitching of junior Kelly Barnhill to put away Kentucky, 4-0, and complete a three-game, SEC opening-weekend sweep of the Wildcats while extending the Gators’ current winning streak to 14 straight games.
“Yeah, I thought we were pretty clean offensively,” UF coach Tim Walton said Sunday. “We’ll find a way to get some runs, but defensively and pitching-wise, we were really good.
“When you pitch and play defense the way that we did, obviously just giving up two runs in a weekend against a team who’s been swinging the bat really well, give our pitching coach Jen Rocha credit for a good game plan.”
UF jumped on Kentucky (15-6, 0-3) for a first-inning run at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, then added two more in the third on left fielder Amanda Lorenz’s fourth home run of the year, a deep shot to left center that landed in the scoreboard netting and gave Florida (22-1, 3-0) an early 3-0 lead.
“It was just exciting to get those runs for Kelly,” Lorenz said. “She did an amazing job today. Just getting another win in the SEC is a big deal, especially a sweep. In this league, it’s hard to do.”
The Gators added a fourth run in the sixth for the final margin on Sophia Reynoso’s one-out, sacrifice squeeze bunt that plated pinch-runner Haven Sampson. Reynoso laid down the bunt with two strikes.
“A squeeze in general is hard, let alone a two-strike squeeze,” Walton noted. “I thought she did a really good job of kind of catching them off-balance.”
That was more than enough for Barnhill, who limited the Wildcats to four hits – two of them bunt singles – while striking out nine batters to improve to 11-0 on the season with another dominating performance.
She also was backed by a solid defense, one that made several highlight plays.
“It was a great game,” Barnhill said. “It was exciting. Kentucky made some really great adjustments, but my defense was amazing today. Amanda had that foul pole, home run rob and Sophia turned a double play that was really cool.
“They were just working really hard behind me today. We started early and got some runs, and when we do that, it’s always a great game.”
Jordan Matthews and Alex Voss each had two hits to pace a 7-hit Gator attack.
Senior Kayli Kvistad, who knocked in the winning run in Saturday’s 3-2 UF victory, sat out Sunday’s game with flu symptoms.
Kentucky, meanwhile, fell to 15-6, 0-3 as starter Autumn Humes (4-1) suffered her first loss.
Next up, the Gators travel to face No. 11 Georgia in Athens in a three-game set Friday through Sunday.
Game times are 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
UF returns home for nine straight games opening with a single game against USF at 6 p.m. March 21 before SEC foe Texas A&M, currently ranked No. 7, visits for a three-game series March 24-26.