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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The seventh-ranked Florida baseball team broke open a 6-6 game with a three-run home run from freshman slugger Austin Maddox and held off a late-charge from the No. 30 Kentucky Wildcats, posting a 10-8 win in the series opener, on a rainy Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (21-13, 4-9 Southeastern Conference) suffered its first Friday-night loss in three weekends. After UK plated three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to even the game back up at 6-6, Maddox ripped a high fly ball over the right-centerfield fence for the difference, handing the Gators the series-opening win. UK managed to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning but mustered just two runs on an RBI groundout and a single from Chad Wright, before Florida closer Kevin Chapman struck out Gunner Glad with a runner on third and one out and got Andy Burns to line out to centerfield to get out of the eighth-inning jam. Chapman then breezed through the side in the bottom of the ninth, getting UK's 5-6-7 hitters to strike out swinging.
The Wildcats had another excellent performance at the plate, gathering eight runs on 11 hits, with five runs off UF starter Alex Panteliodis, who entered the game owning a 6-1 record and a 1.99 ERA. UK was led by multi-hit games from Wright and Burns, with Burns launching his team-best 10th homer of the season. Senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer had his second career two-homer game, launching his fourth and fifth homers of the season. In the last four games against Florida, dating back to the series in 2009, Nidiffer has hit five home runs, including a homer in all four games. Shortstop Taylor Black also tied a career-high with his fifth homer of the year, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Preseason All-American Chris Bisson, first baseman Braden Kapteyn and sophomore Michael Williams each notched a hit.
Florida (24-9, 9-4 SEC) used multi-RBI games from Nolan Fontana and Maddox to take the series opener against the Wildcats. Fontana ended the game 1-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Maddox went 3-for-5 with three RBI. Matt den Dekker hit his sixth homer of the year, going 2-for-3.
UK starter Logan Darnell was roughed up in his six innings of work, allowing seven hits and six runs - four earned - walking two and striking out three. Kentucky freshman right-hander Jordan Cooper relieved Darnell and allowed the four decisive runs, taking the loss and falling to 1-3 on the year. Cooper lasted just one inning, allowing four runs on three hits, walking one and striking out two, giving up the two UF homers. Freshman Walter Wijas hurled the final two innings for Kentucky after the delay, allowing two hits and no runs while striking out two.
Panteliodis went 6.1 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, walking one and striking out three. Panteliodis allowed the four UK homers, despite entering the game with only two homers allowed in his 45.1 innings pitched in 2010. The eight hits and five runs allowed marked season-highs for Panteliodis. Lexington, Ky., native Nick Maronde came in and got one out, allowing one hit, one walk and one run. Jeff Barfield (2-0) picked up the win with 1.1 innings, before Chapman picked up his seventh save of the season with an impressive outing in the eighth and ninth innings.
The series will resume Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will send freshman lefty Taylor Rogers (4-3, 4.86 ERA) to the mound to face off with UF freshman right-hander Hudson Randall (3-3, 3.98 ERA). The game will be televised live on the Big Blue Sports Network, with Dick Gabriel (play-by-play), Ryan Lemond (sideline) and former MLB Gold Glove infielder Doug Flynn (color) calling the action. The game will also be broadcast live on BBSN (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
Kentucky scored first in the game when Burns launched his 10th homer of the season. The UK third baseman stepped up to lead off the bottom of the second inning, sending a laser shot onto the observation deck in right-centerfield. Nidiffer continued the Wildcats rally, hitting his fourth homer of the season. Nidiffer blasted the homer just left of the centerfield wall, giving UK a 2-0 lead. The homers marked the fourth consecutive game that Nidiffer has hit a bomb against the Gators and the second straight game that Burns has blasted one against UF.
UK got on the board again in the fourth inning when Burns lead off the inning with a double down the left field line, moving over to third on a throwing error by the pitcher trying to pick Burns off second. Kapteyn then scorched a single into right-centerfield to score Burns and give UK a three-run lead. After Keenan Wiley reached on an error by the third baseman, Nidiffer bunted Kapteyn and Wiley into scoring position with a perfect bunt down the first base line. With two on and one out, Black lined a laser to the left side but right at the third baseman for the second out. The inning ended when Williams grounded out slowly to third.
The Gators got on the board when Jonathan Pigott sent a homer over the leftfield wall, just out of the reach of Wright's glove. Leading off the fifth, Pigott sent a ball high into the air, clearing the wall. The inning continued with a base hit by Preston Tucker to Bisson, who, despite an amazing diving-effort to get to the ball, threw wildly to first allowing Tucker to advance to second. After a groundout to second, Darnell walked two consecutive batters to load the bases for Fontana who singled to rightfield but Glad misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll past him to clear the bases. Darnell got the second out of the inning on groundout to short that scored Fontana to give UF a 5-3 lead.
UF scored again in the top of the sixth inning, getting a leadoff double by Maddox. Darnell then plunked Jonathon Pigott to put runners on first and second, with both runners advancing to scoring position on the sacrifice bunt by den Decker. The Gators scored when Smith sent a sacrifice fly to center field, plating Maddox. The inning ended when Darnell struck out Josh Adams.
Kentucky cut the lead to one getting back-to-back homers in the sixth inning. Nidiffer started the action with the second homer of the game. After Wiley led off the inning with a screaming line drive right at the center fielder for the first out, Nidiffer stepped to the plate and hit a laser shot identical to the homer in the second inning. UK got the second homer when Black lined one off the batter's eye in center field. The blast from Black, which hit just a couple of feet up the black fencing in center, was his fifth homer of the season. UF made a pitching change after the Black homer, going to Maronde. Williams welcomed Maronde to the game with a double to right-centerfield and after a Bisson walk and a wild pitch, Wright was up with runners on second and third and one out. Wright would tie the game with a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Williams and removing Maronde from the mound for Barfield. Barfield got Glad to line out softly to third to end the UK rally.
Florida regained the lead in the top of the seventh when Maddox roped his 10th homer of the year, a three-run shot off the light pole in right-centerfield. The inning started with a strikeout but after a walk and a single, Maddox launched a two-out bomb into right-centerfield, giving UF a 9-6 lead.
The Gators plated an insurance run in the eighth when den Decker soared one over the tall wall in right field. The bomb was sixth of the year for den Decker, a no-doubt shot well over the wall. After the homer, play was halted due to heavy rains coming down. After an hour and a half rain delay, UK turned to reliever Walter Wijas get three quick outs to end the eighth.
Kentucky started a rally in the bottom of the eighth inning when Nidiffer started by getting hit by a pitch and Black doubled down the leftfield line. Florida would go to the bullpen and bring in Chapman with runners on second and third and no outs. Chapman walked Williams, loading the bases for Bisson. After Bisson grounded out to second to score Nidiffer, Wright singled to left-centerfield to score Black and cut the UF lead to two with runners at the corners, one out and Glad up. Chapman got out of the inning with no further damage, getting Glad to strikeout and Burns to fly out to center.