The skid to end the season can finally be put to rest. Gators baseball bumped out Kentucky in the opening game of the SEC Tournament. With this being a single-elimination game, it was all on the line out of the gate.
Pitching stayed strong in the right moments, and the bats, while not explosive on the stats sheets, gave the team that big boost mentally.
For many of the young Gators, it was their first time playing in Hoover. Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said they made due in the new environment and found a way to win.
“Obviously, it takes a while to get adjusted to a ballpark, but I thought we handled it well. Like I said, this time of year, you got to find different ways to win, and we won a little differently today.”
First Inning Nearly Breaks Than Makes the Game
Tommy Mace took the mound for the Gators. His first two batters put him in trouble, as he hit the first batter he faced then allowed a ground-rule double to right. Fortunately, that ball hopping over the wall gave him the chance to save the game early.
Mace struck out the next three batters to escape the inning. A Mace the Ace moment indeed.
The pendulum quickly swung in the Gators’ direction in the bottom half of the first.
“We wanted some momentum, and it all kind of got started in that first inning,” Gators left fielder Jacob Young said.
Young brought that momentum by driving the first pitch of the game he saw out of the park. That gave the Gators a much-needed 1-0 lead early.
A few at-bats later, with runners on first and third and one out, Sterlin Thompson singled to left, scoring Nathan Hickey, doubling the lead to 2-0.
In a matter of 15 or so minutes, the Gators went from potentially falling quickly behind to in the driver’s seat.
Mace Continues to Battle
Apart from a quick top of the third, Mace had no room to switch on cruise control. He needed to battle from start to finish to keep his Gators in it.
With one out in the second, he faced runners on first and third. Mace got bailed out when Kentucky second baseman Zeke Lewis attempted to score after centerfield Cam Hill stole second. Gators shortstop Josh Rivera threw him out at the plate.
Mace allowed a base knock in the fourth but left the mound unscathed. However, he couldn’t keep Kentucky scoreless.
With runners on first and third with two outs, Mace was a strike away from escaping again. However, Wildcats’ right fielder John Rhodes doubled down the left-field line to put Kentucky on the board. Mace was able to hold them to the one run to end his day on the mound. He finished his day after five innings, allowing the lone run and racking up eight strikeouts.
O’Sullivan said Mace got the job done.
“In some difficult spots, he made some big pitches when he needed to,” O’Sullivan said.
Gators Grab Insurance Runs
The Gators closed out scoring for the game in the bottom of the fifth.
Second baseman Cory Acton picked up the first insurance run when he singled to score Kendrick Calilao. Catcher Mac Guscette then reached on a fielder’s choice, scoring Thompson.
Kentucky Threatens in the Ninth
After getting the third out in the eighth, pitcher Jack Leftwich stayed on the mound to close out the game. He picked up the first out with ease on a fly out to right but then allowed back-to-back singles. Leftwich then threw a fastball right at the backstop to allow both runners to advance a base.
Leftwich came back to pick up a strikeout with a chance up low and away, then induces a grounder to short to end the game.
The Gators stay alive to play another day.
Gators baseball returns Wednesday at the same time (10:30 a.m.). They will play Mississippi State. This will be the first time this season the Gators will face the Bulldogs.