GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Zunino launched a pair of home runs, one to tie the game in the third and a second to erase a one-run Kentucky lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, lifting No. 4 Florida to a series-opening 9-6 win over the Wildcats, on a gorgeous Thursday night in front of 3,164 at McKethan Stadium.
Kentucky (24-29, 7-21 Southeastern Conference) battled the high-powered Gators throughout the game, falling behind 3-0 after a three-run bottom of the second and immediately answering to take the lead with four runs in the top of the third. The All-America catcher Zunino – the SEC leader in home runs – evened up the game in the bottom of the third, before UK rallied for a run in the top of the sixth. With two outs and a 3-2 count in the bottom of the sixth, Zunino launched his second homer of the game, a three-run job to give UF a 7-5 lead. The Wildcats plated a two-out run in the top of the seventh to cut the lead to one run but the Gators plated two runs in the bottom of the eighth for the final margin, 9-6.
The Wildcats were led offensively by Chad Wright and Thomas McCarthy, with the duo each leading off an inning with a triple. Wright finished 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBI, while McCarthy went 3-for-4 with two RBI. McCarthy extended his team-best hitting streak to eight games and now has six consecutive games with three-or-more hits. Over his last six consecutive multi-hit games, McCarthy has hit .704 (19-for-27) with a 1.111 slugging percentage and 12 RBI. Taylor Black, Braden Kapteyn and Lucas Witt each collected hits, with Witt and Wright also drawing walks.
Zunino continued his electric power surge, launching his fifth home run in his last three games. In his last two SEC games, Zunino has hit four homers, including two to give UF the game-winning RBI. The slugger finished the game going 3-for-4 with five RBI.
UK starter Taylor Rogers (3-7) suffered the loss, going over seven innings, allowing 10 hits and nine runs – five earned – walking three and striking out two. Senior Mike Kaczmarek relieved him and got one out on two hits, before senior Nick Kennedy got the final two outs of the bottom of the eighth inning.
Florida (40-14, 21-7 SEC) starter Brian Johnson (8-3) picked up the win, going six innings, allowing five runs – four earned – walking one and striking out six. Greg Larson replaced him and went two innings, allowing only one hit and one unearned run, walking two and striking out three. Slugging first baseman Austin Maddox replaced him with one on and no outs in the ninth and got the final three outs for his third save of the year.
The series will resume on Friday at 7 p.m. ET at McKethan Stadium. UK will send junior righty Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06 ERA) vs. Florida ace righty Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.14 ERA). The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
The Gators got on the board in the second inning, as Austin Maddox led off with a single to leftfield and Daniel Pigott pushed him to third with a single into right-centerfield. Vickash Ramjit then singled on an infield hit to first base, scoring Maddox. After a successful sacrifice bunt from Zack Powers, Bryson Smith singled up the middle to score Pigott and move Ramjit to third base. Nolan Fontana then lofted a sacrifice fly into centerfield to score Ramjit and make it 3-0.
UK took the lead with four runs in the top of the third inning. After a strikeout to start the inning, Witt singled off the glove of the pitcher and Johnson drew a walk. Black then chopped a ball to the left side, with the throw off the mark for a bases-loading error. Wright then painted a triple down the rightfield line, clearing the bases with his fourth triple of the year. McCarthy then singled to the left side, allowing Wright to score from third base.
Zunino tied the game at 4-4 with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the third. The homer was his league-leading 14th of the year and came on the first pitch of the frame.
The Wildcats took the lead with a run in the top of the sixth, as McCarthy led off with a triple painted down the rightfield line. Maile then scored him with a deep fly out to centerfield, for the sacrifice fly.
Zunino gave the Gators the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, connecting on a three-run homer to give UF a 7-5 lead. Ramjit led off on an error, taking second on Power’s sacrifice bunt. Smith then got hit by a pitch and after Fontana flied out, Zunino launched a 3-2 offering for a three-run homer over the leftfield fence. The homer was Zunino’s SEC-leading 15th of the year.
UK mounted a rally in the top of the seventh inning, as Black reached second base on a pair of errors charged to the third baseman. After Wright drew a walk on a 3-1 offering, McCarthy smacked a two-out single into rightfield to score Black.
Florida scored again in the bottom of the eighth inning. Cody Dent led off with a first-pitch single up the middle and Smith reached on an error on an attempted sacrifice bunt. Fontana then singled into rightfield to score one run and Zunino notched his fifth RBI of the game with a single to centerfield.
GAME NOTES: UK senior shortstop Taylor Black made his team-leading 93rd consecutive start at shortstop, Chad Wright his 60th consecutive start and Braden Kapteyn his 48th straight start … With a single in the first, Wright extended his hitting streak to five games … Wright had his fourth triple of the year, clearing the bases in the third inning … Thomas McCarthy’s RBI two-out hit in the third was his team-leading 28th two-out hit of the year and his 18th two-out RBI … McCarthy connected on his second triple of the season to lead off the sixth … McCarthy notched another two-out hit (29) and two-out RBI (19) in the seventh inning … McCarthy extended his hitting streak to eight games, owning six consecutive games with three-or-more hits.