Florida catcher Brody Donay slides into home to score a run in the bottom of the 8th on Friday at Condron Family Ballpark. The Gators lost 12-11 in 10 innings to Kentucky. [Cyndi Chambers-USA TODAY NETWORK]

Florida Baseball Can’t Hold Off Kentucky In 10-Inning Thriller

It’s still the regular season, but for the Gators, it’s playoff mode now looking for their 11th conference win.  

From a 6:30 p.m. start that shifted to 1 p.m., the first pitch still wasn’t thrown until 3:30 p.m. due to a weather delay at Condron Family Ballpark. Adding to that, Florida hadn’t won a Friday game or first game in a series since March 29.

At one point, Florida (25-24, SEC 10-15) held a 5-1 lead against No. 4 Kentucky (36-10, SEC 19-6).

But a meltdown in the late innings on the mound held off a crucial Game 1 win as the Gators fell 12-11 to the Wildcats in 10 innings.

Early Punches And Jams

The teams exchanged blows in the first inning for unearned runs via throwing errors.

Kentucky’s Devin Burkes jumped two bases after first baseman Jac Caglianone made a rare throwing error to second during a pick-off attempt. Nick Lopez then roped an RBI double an eight-pitch at bat putting the Gators in a 1-0 hole.

Florida struck in similar fashion in the home half of the first. Caglianone (2-for-3, RBI) collected his 199th career hit to extend his hit streak to 28 games and his on-base streak to 35 games. A pick-off attempt skipped by the Kentucky first baseman to let Caglianone trot to third.

Ty Evans picked up an infield hit for an RBI on a throw bobbled by the first baseman to tie the score at 1-1.

https://twitter.com/GatorsBB/status/1789020708322111629

Starting pitcher Pierce Coppola only went 2 2/3 innings after Kentucky worked his pitch count. Righty Fisher Jameson stepped in to clean up and stellar defense kept the Gators in the lead into the fourth.

Dale Thomas (3-for-3, RBI) got his first start since April 18 for the Gators and shined at the plate and on defense with multiple putouts at third.

Condron Launch Pad

The Gators would be the ones who struck back with two more punches in the third and fourth innings.

Thomas started his day with a leadoff single and Caglianone reached on a walk setting up Colby Shelton (2-for-5, 4 RBI) for a big fly on the first pitch for a three-run shot (17th of the year) to right-center for a 4-1 lead in the third.

Brody Donay (2-for-6, 2 RBI) led off the fourth inning by sending the first pitch he saw for a solo shot to left field for his 10th homer on the season to extend UF’s lead to 5-1.

Kentucky answered by plating a pair of runs in the fifth. Jake Clemente was the bright light of the Gator bullpen. He shut down the Wildcats for 1 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit and striking out three.

Junior righty Brandon Neely’s name was called next after Clemente’s rhythm went stale with two runners on and no outs in the seventh. It took Neely five pitches to get bailed out when catcher Luke Heyman fired down to Thomas, who doubled up sleeping runners on a missed bunt play to escape the inning.

Sparks flew again in the seventh after Kentucky shortstop Mitchell Daly dropped a popup with two outs. The Wildcats intentionally walked Colby Shelton with two outs, and two pitches later, Caglianone scored on a wild pitch that skipped over the catcher’s head to give UF a 6-3 lead.

The Melt Down and Response

Florida was 21-1 on the season when leading after the sixth inning, but that changed.

The Wildcats pounced on Neely in the eighth inning by putting up a three spot with a two-strike backside homer run from Ryan Nicholson (2-for-5, 5 RBI) and a run-scoring double by pinch-hitter Eli Small that tied the game at 6-6.

The Gators, who collected 14 hits, kept responding at the plate. Tyler Shelnut (2-for-5, RBI) roped an RBI double and Thomas hit a deep ball to center for a sacrifice fly to collect two more runs for Florida and an 8-6 lead.

Luke McNeillie, who has been on a tear out of the bullpen for Florida as of late, simply didn’t have his stuff Friday. He stepped in to close it out for the win in the ninth, but after two quick outs, the wheels fell off for the freshman.

McNeillie gave up back-to-back walks and then put himself in a predictable 2-0 count to Nicholson, who put a ball into orbit over the right field wall for his second homer on the day to give Kentucky a 9-8 lead.

Once again, the Gators responded compliments of Thomas.

Florida worked two on with two outs before Thomas squeaked a ball through the right side to tie the game again at 9-9 after nine.

Cade Fisher then stepped out of the pen for Florida and got two outs just like McNeillie. However, with his obvious struggles on the mound in his last few outings, coach Kevin O’Sullivan is going to have a hard time sleeping on the decision to bring him in.

Fisher hit a batter and walked the next one he faced on five pitches to bring up Kentucky’s hottest hitter in the four-hole, Lopez, who is hitting .380 on the season. Lopez poked the second pitch he saw down the right-field line for a bases clearing double that put UK up 12-9.

One More Shot

The Gators put up one more fight, as Caglianone, who was intentionally walked three times, collected his 200th career hit with his 28th homer on the season.

Shelton followed suit a batter later with his second homer on the day to pull Florida within one run, but it wouldn’t be enough as Donay grounded into a double play to squash the potential upset.

Up Next

The next two games were also shifted up in hopes of avoiding any more inclement weather, with Game 2 Saturday slated for a noon first pitch on the SEC Network, ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF.

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