Kentucky falls to Florida in baseball, slips out of division lead for first time this year

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 3, 2012 

For the first time this season, the Kentucky Wildcats do not lead the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference baseball race.

Fifth-ranked Florida jumped to a 4-0 lead and went on to beat the third-ranked Cats 5-3 Thursday night in front of a Cliff Hagan Stadium crowd of 2,457.

Coming off its first series loss of the year, at Vanderbilt, UK now has its first three-game losing streak.

The Cats (36-10, 14-8) trail South Carolina by a half-game in the East.

"It's part of the deal, though," UK Coach Gary Henderson said. "You rarely go through unscathed and you get a few bumps and bruises along the way. We're still competing really well. We're not performing quite as well, but we're competing well and we'll get out of it."

UK has dropped four of its last five games, hitting .222 during that stretch. Unofficially, the Cats have stranded 44 runners over those five games and totaled just five extra-base hits. With finals week over Friday, UK will try to end the slide.

"Hopefully we'll turn it around," said Cameron Flynn, who had two of UK's eight hits. "Hopefully, luck goes our way and we turn it around tomorrow."

The three-game series continues Friday night at 7.

"We're resilient, we're confident," Henderson said. "But it's like any time you get a little bit of a dry spell, you get a little antsy and all the rest. But we're not going to lose our confidence."

Preston Tucker had two of Florida's nine hits, including a solo homer to open the scoring in the first inning.

The Gators (34-12, 13-9 SEC) trail UK by a game.

Hudson Randall (5-1) worked 62⁄3 innings for the win. Steven Rodriguez finished for his first save.

UK 7-8 hitters Flynn and Michael Williams each had two of the Wildcats' eight hits.

UK starter Taylor Rogers (5-3) worked six-plus innings, giving up four runs, three earned.

Rogers struck out five and walked two in his third consecutive strong start.

"I feel stronger at this point in the season, and just figuring out a better routine," Rogers said. "Everything's kind of been clicking, so hopefully I'll keep that going."

Rogers attributed the recent losses to "just the way baseball goes."

"Everybody has their little slip-ups. Look at the Angels right now. That's what happens. The only thing that is a difference-maker between good teams and bad teams is the ones that get through it and stay positive, find ways to get through those little ditches."

Williams' two-run homer in the seventh inning cut Florida's lead to 4-3.

That's how it stayed until the Gators used a single, sacrifice and Justin Shafer's RBI single to make it 5-3 in the ninth.

Tucker's homer, his 12th of the season, came on a two-out 1-2 pitch to the shortest part of the field, skimming over the wall in right field. The Gators lead he nation with 57 homers.

Florida added three runs in the third, thanks to four singles and an error.

Two runs scored when Tucker singled, and left fielder Zac Zellers made a wild throw to the plate. Brian Johnson's two-out single brought Tucker home.

UK, held to one hit through four innings, broke through for a run in the fifth.

Zellers led off with a single, was bunted to second and scored on Flynn's double to the wall in right-center.

Williams' homer in the seventh came on the first pitch after a Flynn single, making it a one-run game.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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