First, the bad news: The Kentucky baseball team’s 14-3 loss at Florida on Friday night dropped the Cats to second place in the Southeastern Conference with one game to play.
The good news? Kentucky still has a chance to win the SEC championship on Saturday.
No. 5 Florida (39-15, 20-9) and No. 10 LSU (38-17, 20-9) are tied atop the standings with one game left in the regular season. But a win by No. 6 Kentucky (38-17, 19-10) on Saturday — and an LSU loss to Mississippi State — would result in a three-way tie for first place. And the Cats hold the tiebreaker with both teams, meaning they would take the crown and the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament next week.
If Kentucky wins and LSU completes a sweep, the Tigers would take the title. UK’s consolation prize would be a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in Hoover, Ala.
LSU defeated Mississippi State 11-5 on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in their series.
Saturday’s game in Gainesville, Fla., starts at 1 p.m. The scheduled pitchers are Kentucky’s Justin Lewis (6-2, 3.23 ERA) and Florida’s Jackson Kowar (9-0, 3.92 ERA).
Friday night was a sharp contrast from Thursday’s series opener, when Kentucky banged out 20 hits, including a grand slam.
UK did not get a base hit until Tristan Pompey’s leadoff double to left field in the sixth inning. Florida had 16 hits, including 13 singles. And Kentucky Coach Nick Mingione got ejected for arguing a call.
Florida took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a Mark Kolozsvary home run that glanced off Pompey’s glove and landed over the right-field fence. Pompey would get a second chance to rob a homer later in the game.
The Gators made it 6-0 with six singles against UK starter Zach Logue (6-5) in the third, his last inning of work. Logue allowed eight hits and two walks in all. The home run allowed was his team-leading 18th this season in 77 innings.
UK threatened in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with two outs thanks to three Brady Singer walks. But Florida’s starting pitcher regrouped to strike out UK catcher Troy Squires, punctuating the inning-ending whiff with a Dennis Eckersley-style fist-pump.
During an interview with an ESPN sideline reporter after the inning, Mingione acknowledged the missed opportunity but remained optimistic. “We had him on the ropes and didn’t cash in there. We finally got some quality at-bats going. We have to do that to have a chance.
“We just gotta do what we do. Give (Singer) a lot of credit. He was 0-2, 1-2 on every guy in our lineup. We just gotta keep competing.”
Jonathan India’s RBI single off UK reliever Alec Maley in the bottom of the inning pushed Florida’s lead to 7-0.
That would be the last run Mingione would see from the UK dugout. One inning later, Kentucky batter Marcus Carson appeared to have been hit by a pitch, but home-plate umpire Michael Banks ordered Carson to stay in the batter’s box. Watching the ESPN broadcast, it was unclear whether Banks ruled the pitch had missed Carson, or whether it nicked his jersey but the batter had not made an attempt to get out of the way.
Either way, Mingione did not like the call. After a brief conversation with Banks, the UK coach was ejected. Mingione erupted, repeatedly stabbing his finger inches away from the umpire’s face.
The Cats’ offense picked up a little bit without their skipper, but not enough to put a significant dent in the Gators’ lead. UK avoided a shutout when Kole Cottam launched a two-run, opposite-field homer in the seventh to trim the deficit to 11-2. Three batters later, Pompey drove in another run with a single.
Kentucky has not been shut out in its last 74 games.
In a likely effort to save the bullpen for Saturday’s game, Kentucky brought in senior first baseman Gunnar McNeill to pitch the last two innings. McNeill, making his first appearance on the mound this season, struck out the first two batters he faced and escaped with a scoreless seventh when Pompey reached above the wall to rob JJ Schwarz of a two-run homer.
Florida scored three runs off McNeill in the eighth to stretch its lead to 14-3.
Kentucky loaded the bases in the ninth against Florida reliever Kirby McMullen but stranded all three runners.