UK Baseball

Gators spoil Cats’ SEC baseball title hopes

Kentucky’s Troy Squires (16) was congratulated after he came home on Marcus Carson’s eighth-inning home run. Florida defeated Kentucky 6-4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Kentucky’s Troy Squires (16) was congratulated after he came home on Marcus Carson’s eighth-inning home run. Florida defeated Kentucky 6-4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

The University of Kentucky baseball team needed to win one of its last two games at Florida to have a chance at a Southeastern Conference title.

Instead, the Cats lost both.

Florida followed Friday night’s 14-3 victory with a 6-4 win on Saturday to clinch a share of the SEC championship on the final day of the regular season. Later Saturday night, LSU (39-17, 21-9) became the SEC co-champion with an 11-7 victory over Mississippi State.

The Gators, by virtue of their 2-1 record against the Tigers this season, will be the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., this week. No. 5 Florida (40-15, 21-9) won its fourth regular-season conference title in 10 years under Coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

No. 6 Kentucky (38-18, 19-11), which finished second in the SEC Eastern Division, will be the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Cats will have a first-round bye and play on Wednesday in the double-elimination portion of the bracket.

Saturday’s game in Gainesville, Fla., started out well for Kentucky.

The Cats grabbed a 1-0 lead on Luke Becker’s RBI double in the first inning, then stretched the lead to 2-0 on Zach Reks’ RBI single in the third. Evan White scored both runs after hitting a pair of doubles.

UK starting pitcher Justin Lewis made two defensive gems in the third inning and cruised into the fourth without a hit against him.

That’s when the Gators’ bats came alive.

After back-to-back hits to start the inning, Nelson Maldonado hit a three-run home run down the right-field line — just out of Tristan Pompey’s reach — to give Florida a 3-2 lead. The Cats never led again.

Maldonado’s fourth RBI was part of a two-run fifth inning for Florida, and a single by Blake Reese made it 6-2 in the sixth.

Marcus Carson’s home run off Florida reliever Michael Byrne pulled the Cats within 6-4 in the eighth. Right fielder Ryan Larson appeared to mistime his jump, and the ball glanced off his glove and over the fence.

The Cats had two runners get picked off in the game and did not make the most of their scoring opportunities. UK left the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh innings. Both times, star second baseman Riley Mahan came to the plate with a chance to do damage and made inning-ending outs.

With two outs in the eighth, White came to bat representing the tying run and struck out looking on a Byrne curveball.

UK went down 1-2-3 in the ninth against Byrne, who recorded his team-leading 14th save.

It was Florida’s first series victory over Kentucky since 2012.

As it turned out, LSU’s three-game sweep of Mississippi State made UK’s title hopes moot Saturday. In retrospect, the most UK could have accomplished with a victory over Florida in the series finale was a division crown and a No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Cats still would have finished a game behind LSU in the standings.

Had the Cats swept the Gators, they would have been co-champs with LSU and received the No. 1 seed this week.

Kentucky designated hitter Kole Cottam went 7-for-13 (.538) in the three-game series with three runs and four RBI. UK batted .333 in the series, while Florida hit at a .307 clip.

UK won the series opener 12-4 on Thursday night.

Next game

What: SEC Tournament

Where: Hoover, Ala.

Opponent: Vanderbilt-South Carolina winner

When: 10:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

TV: SEC Network

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